R. H. Bruce Lockhart
"HISTORY FROM THE INSIDE"
"History is generally only the register of the crimes, the follies, and the mistakes of mankind."
OF that voyage home to England I remember very little. I had to travel via Finland and Scandinavia and was seeing Stockholm for the first time. On this occasion it made no impression on me. I do not remember where we stayed. As far as I can recollect, I avoided our Legation. I kept no diary during this period. My mental anguish was extreme, and I wanted to forget.
All that remains in my mind is the memory of the railway journey from Christiania to Bergen. The scenery, wilder, more picturesque than the Canadian Rockies, provided the proper background for my own melancholy. The wild stretches of moor, the lofty peaks and tortuous ravines, the lochs and turbulent trout-streams, above all, the firs and the birches, their leaves golden with the first tints of autumn, reminded me of Scotland. At Bergen I met Wardrop, who was to take my place in Moscow. He was an elderly, scholarly man and the personification of caution. Obviously, the Foreign Office were taking no more chances with youth. Mechanically I gave him the information he required about Moscow. I cannot say I enjoyed the interview, I could not bear the thought of having to talk about Russia. All I wanted was to go to my own country and fish.
I assume that I made the dreary journey---exciting only because of the danger from submarines---from Bergen to Aberdeen and that I crossed in the Vulture. In a court of law I could not swear either to the name of the ship or to the port of landing. I know that I arrived in London on the morning of the day on which Korniloff's troops were marching on St. Petersburg. I went straight to the Foreign Office to report myself. I was received with the greatest kindness. I was a man who had accomplished great things at the expense of his health. I was to take a long rest and not to think about the war or work or Russia until I had made a complete recovery. With disgust in my heart I accepted the role which had been forced on me, and that same day I made arrangements to go to the Highlands to stay with my uncle. Before I left I had one more ordeal to face. Within a few hours of my arrival in London the Daily Mail succeeded in tracking me down. They wanted information about the outcome of the Kerensky-Korniloff clash. Opinion in London favoured Korniloff's chances. I held definite views regarding the inevitability of Korniloff's failure. Would I write an article? It would have to be done at once. The Mail would pay handsomely for it.
There and then, with the sacrifice of my dinner, I scribbled out the article with the Mail's representative looking over my shoulder. I threw in some new photographs of Kerensky and Savinkoff and I received a cheque for twenty-five guineas. I showed my customary lack of business instinct. I sold my article for probably less than half the sum a more astute journalist might have received. On the other hand, the article had to be anonymous (as a Government servant I could not use my name), and the cheque paid for my return fare to Scotland. It was my first experience of frenzied journalism.
The ways of Providence are not only incalculable. They are on occasions highly diverting. Greatly refreshed in mind and body, I returned from Scotland to London fourteen days after the Bolshevik revolution. I was to start work again. I had been temporarily attached to Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland as his Russian expert in the new Department of Overseas Trade. I owe much to Sir Arthur. He overwhelmed me with kindness and insisted on my staying with him at his house in Cadogan Square. What was more important, he plunged me again into the very heart of Russian affairs. The Bolshevik coup d'état had completely nullified the value of my services to the Department of Overseas Trade. Sir Arthur helped me or rather pushed me into finding a new outlet for my activities.
During a hectic period of three weeks I lunched and dined with the politicians. Russia, of course, was the one topic of conversation, and in the prevailing ignorance I regained my self-confidence. I had long foreseen the inevitability of the Bolshevik revolution. I could not share the general belief, stimulated by the opinion of nearly all the Russian experts in London, that the Lenin régime could not last more than a few weeks and that then Russia would revert to Tsarism or a military dictatorship. Still less could I believe that the Russian peasant would return to the trenches. Russia was out of the war. Bolshevism would last---certainly as long as the war lasted. I deprecated as sheer folly our militarist propaganda, because it took no account of the war-weariness which had raised the Bolsheviks to the supreme power. In my opinion, we had to take the Bolshevik peace proposals seriously. Our policy should now aim at achieving an anti-German peace in Russia.
Rather futilely I sought to combat the firmly-rooted conviction that Lenin and Trotsky were German staff officers in disguise or at least servile agents of German policy. I was more successful when I argued that it was madness not to establish some contact with the men who at that moment were controlling Russia's destinies.
The reactions to my pleading were varied. At that moment the general atmosphere in political circles was pessimistic. I think that in their hearts the Cabinet realised that Russia was out of the war for good, but with an obstinate lack of logic they refused to accept the implications of their secret beliefs. Hate of the revolution and fear of its consequences in England were the dominant reactions of Conservatives, who at that moment had an unnatural and today inexplicable dread of the machinations of Mr. Arthur Henderson. I found the same fears among the Labour patriots. At Cadogan Square I renewed my acquaintance with Jim O'Grady and Will Thorne. They, too, were critical of Mr. Henderson, who, they said, had gone over to the Snowdenites and was playing for revolution and the Labour Premiership. I saw Mr. Henderson himself at I Victoria Place. I found the same man as I had met in Russia seven months before. He was as God-fearing, as conventionally Methodist, as petit-bourgeois, and as scared of revolution as he always has been and always will be. He talked to me very frankly about his own position. He was bitter about his treatment by Lloyd George, which, he said, had only strengthened his own standing in Labour circles. His views on the Russian situation were not very different from my own. He was entirely in favour of establishing contact with the Bolsheviks. He went further. He was in favour of a Conference---a form of negotiation which would have been infinitely more dangerous than the original proposal of the Stockholm Conference. In those days, however, Mr. Henderson, like Mr. Lloyd George, was convinced that he had only to meet Lenin face to face in order to vanquish him in the ensuing battle of wits.
During these three weeks from November 27th to December 18th, 1917, I must have met scores of politicians and experts. The endless conversations seemed to lead no further. One lesson that period should have taught me: that the man in London has a thousand advantages over the man on the spot. Then I was too young to profit by it. During the next year I was to acquire it by the bitter experience of being myself the man on the spot.
One exciting adventure I had at this time. On December 18th I was to dine at Cadogan Square to meet Bonar Law. It was a night of fog, and to the inconvenience of the fog was added the unpleasantness of an air raid. I dressed to the accompaniment of gun-fire and the crash of bombs. To the same discords I forced my way through the huddled crowds in the Piccadilly tube station, and after long delays and some trepidation I reached Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland's house an hour late. The table was set for eight people. Sir Arthur was in his day-clothes. There was no Bonar Law. I was the only guest who had succeeded in reaching his destination.
The next day, however, the weeks of talk were translated into action. Sir Arthur gave another dinner party. This time there were only two guests in addition to myself: H. W. C. Davis, the Oxford historian, and Lord Milner. We talked until late in the night, and I repeated all my arguments about the necessity of establishing contact. Lord Milner was very sympathetic. When he went away, he told me that I should hear from him very soon. The next morning I was summoned to Downing Street. I met Lord Carson and Lord Curzon, both of whom referred very flatteringly to my work, and we had a long discussion on Russia. That same afternoon we had another meeting at the War Cabinet offices in Whitehall Gardens. Several Russian experts were present, including Rex Leeper and Colonel Byrne. The Ministers who listened to our words of wisdom were General Smuts, Lord Carson, and Lord Milner. The discussions were rather futile. Lord Milner was the only Minister who seemed to have even an elementary knowledge of Russian geography, and Lord Carson nearly upset my unnatural solemnity by asking me seriously if I could explain to him the difference between a Maximalist and a Bolshevik. At the end of the meeting Lord Milner told me that the Cabinet approved in principle the necessity of establishing contact with the Bolsheviks, but that they were unable to find the right man for the task.
On the morning of December 21St I was again summoned to 10 Downing Street. I was kept waiting about ten minutes. Then I was ushered into a long, narrow room which seemed to me all table. A Cabinet meeting had just ended. Mr. Lloyd George, his pince-nez in his hand, was standing by the window, talking and gesticulating to Lord Curzon. My sponsor, Lord Milner, was not present, and for what seemed an eternity I stood waiting. Then Lord Milner came in, rescued me and took me up to Mr. Lloyd George.
"Mr. Lockhart?" he said. He shook hands and stepped back in order to scrutinise me more carefully. "The Mt. Lockhart?" I looked foolish. Then, having made me the centre of attraction, he continued very slowly, so that every one could hear: "From the wisdom of your reports I expected to see an elderly gentleman with a grey beard." He patted me on the back, asked me my age, muttered something about youth and Pitt being Prime Minister at twenty-four, and we sat down to business. Another meeting was started, this time with Mr. Lloyd George presiding. My diary tells me that at the time I thought he looked tired and old. He was, however, remarkably active and adroit in his handling of the meeting. He asked me a few questions about Lenin and Trotsky. A fresh question followed almost before I had time to answer the previous one. I saw that his own mind was made up. He had been greatly impressed, as Lord Milner told me afterwards, by an interview with Colonel Thompson of the American Red Cross, who had just returned from Russia and who had denounced in blunt language the folly of the Allies in not opening up negotiations with the Bolsheviks. The questions ended, Mr. Lloyd George stood up, referred briefly to the chaotic conditions in Russia and to the necessity of getting into touch with Lenin and Trotsky, emphasised the need for tact, knowledge and understanding, and finished up by stating that Mr. Lockhart was obviously a man whose right place at that moment was in St. Petersburg and not in London. I was then told I could go.
That afternoon I had another meeting with Lord Milner and Lord Carson. This time Viscount Cecil (then Lord Robert Cecil) was present, and I had a very difficult quarter of an hour. Lord Robert was then Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs. He was supremely sceptical of the usefulness of establishing any kind of relations with the Bolsheviks, and, as a sidelight on his subsequent development as an internationalist, it is worth putting on record that the man who since the war has sat so often round the same table in Geneva as Litvinoff and Lunacharsky was at that time the most convinced of all responsible English statesmen that Lenin and Trotsky were paid agents of Germany, working deliberately for German ends, with no policy and no ambitions of their own. I was still in the dark regarding my fate.
That night Lord Milner and Lord Robert left for Paris, and I went home to spend Christmas with my father and mother, having been told to leave my telephone number and to hold myself in readiness in case I might be required to go on my travels again.
On New Year's Day I was back at the offices of the War Cabinet. A scheme was being evolved. It was certain that I was to return to Russia almost at once. In what capacity I was not told.
Three days later all my doubts were put at rest. I was to go to Russia as head of a special mission to establish unofficial relations with the Bolsheviks. Sir George Buchanan was returning home. I was to leave on the cruiser which was to fetch him from Bergen. My instructions were of the vaguest. I was to have the responsibility of establishing relations. I was to have no authority. If the Bolsheviks would give me the necessary diplomatic privileges without being recognised by the British Government, we would make a similar concession to Litvinoff, whom the Bolsheviks had already appointed Soviet Ambassador in London.
The situation bristled with difficulties, but I accepted it without hesitation. The first essential was to acquire a suitable introduction to Lenin and Trotsky and to establish a modus vivendi with Litvinoff. Thanks to Rex Leeper, both tasks succeeded beyond my expectations. Leeper was on friendly terms with Rothstein, subsequently Bolshevik Minister in Teheran and then an official translator in our own War Office. I had a long talk with Rothstein, the substance of which I carefully noted in my diary. Rothstein, who had lived for years in England, was an intellectual arm-chair revolutionary. He said Trotsky's ambition was not a separate peace but a general peace. He pointed out that if he were Lloyd George he would accept Trotsky's offer of a conference unconditionally. England would be the chief beneficiary. The Russian stipulations about self-determination would fall through with an ineffective protest from Trotsky, and England and Germany could arrange the colonial questions between them. Germany would agree to almost all other terms---that is, no annexations and no contributions. She might even be prepared to compromise on the Alsace-Lorraine question. In any case, it was absurd for England to prolong the war for the sake of Alsace-Lorraine. There was nothing easier to destroy than sentimental causes which are not rooted in a people itself, and we should have to consider very seriously whether we should get a better peace nine months hence.
At the time such proposals would have been regarded as treason. Today, to a world which is groaning under the burden of the Peace Treaties, they do not seem so unreasonable. (Incidentally, it is interesting to note that Rothstein was only six weeks out in his prediction of the end of the war.)
I avoided any discussions of a general peace, brought the subject back to Russia herself, and elaborated my proposals for opening up negotiations with his friends. I expressed a genuine sympathy with Russia's desire for peace, pointing out that she might have great difficulty in concluding a separate peace with Germany and that even unofficial contact between the English and Russian Governments would be as useful to the Bolsheviks as to us.
We parted on good terms, Rothstein promising to use his influence with Litvinoff to provide me with the necessary recommendation to Trotsky. A few days later the whole affair was arranged over the luncheon table at a Lyons shop in the Strand. The two contracting parties were represented by Litvinoff and Rothstein on the Russian side and Leeper and myself on the English side. There was to be no recognition---at any rate for the present. Unofficially, both Litvinoff and I were to have certain diplomatic privileges, including the use of ciphers and the right to a diplomatic courier.
It was an amazing meal. Outside, the January sky was like lead and the room, poorly lit at the best of times, was grey and sombre. Leeper and I were just thirty. Litvinoff was eleven years our senior. Rothstein was a year or two older than Litvinoff. Both men were Jews. Both had suffered persecution and imprisonment for their political convictions. Yet Litvinoff, whose real name was Wallach, was married to an Englishwoman. Rothstein had a son---a British subject---in the British Army.
The success of that luncheon was made by Rothstein, who supplied to the conversation the necessary mixture of banter and seriousness which afterwards I was to find so useful in my negotiations with the Bolsheviks in Russia. Small, bearded, with dark lively eyes, he was a kind of intellectual cricket, whose dialectical jumps were as bewildering to us as they were amusing to himself. There was certainly nothing bloodthirsty in his revolutionary make-up. If the British Government had only left him in peace, I believe he would be living quietly in England to this day. Litvinoff, heavily built, with broad forehead, was more sluggish and slower witted. My impression of him was not unfavourable. In so far as a Bolshevik can be said to differentiate in his degrees of hate of bourgeois institutions, he certainly regarded German militarism as a greater danger than English capitalism.
After a nervous beginning the course of our negotiations ran smoothly, and there and then, on the rough linen of a standard Lyons' table, Litvinoff wrote out my letter of recommendation to Trotsky. I give it herewith in Rothstein's translation:
People's Commissary for Foreign Affairs.
The bearer of this, Mr. Lockhart, is going to Russia with an official mission with the exact character of which I am not acquainted. I know him personally as a thoroughly honest man who understands our position and sympathises with us. I should consider his sojourn in Russia useful from the point of view of our interests.
My position here remains indefinite. I learnt of my appointment only from the newspapers. I hope a courier is bringing me the necessary documents without which the difficulties of my position are greatly increased. The Embassy, Consulate, and Russian Government Committee have not yet surrendered. Their relations to me will be determined by the relations of the British Government.
I wrote the other day to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs asking for a meeting in order to regulate certain practical questions (the viséing of passports, use of ciphers, military convention, etc.), but have not received any reply. I presume the question of my recognition will not be settled until the arrival of Buchanan.
The reception accorded me by the Press is quite satisfactory. I am making the acquaintance of the representatives of the Labour movement. I have issued an appeal to the English working-men in all the Socialist papers. Even the bourgeois Press readily accords me its pages to explain our position.
I shall write more fully by the first courier. I have not received an answer from you to my telegram of January 4th, new style, No. 1. I request you very much to confirm the receipt of all telegrams and to number your telegrams.
The ciphers will, I trust, be delivered to me by the courier. Greetings to Lenin and all friends. I press your hand warmly.
(signed) M. Litvinoff.
Rothstein begs me to greet you. London, January 11th (new style), 1918.
The luncheon closed on a humorous note. As we were ordering a sweet, Litvinoff noticed on the menu the magic words: "pouding diplomate." The idea appealed to him. The new diplomatist would eat the diplomatic pudding. The Lyons "Nippy" took his order and returned a minute later to say there was no more. Litvinoff shrugged his shoulders and smiled blandly. "Not recognised even by Lyons," he said.
My last days in England were not solely occupied by Litvinoff and Rothstein. There was the personnel of my mission to engage. I was given almost a free hand. As my chief assistant I wanted Rex Leeper, whose knowledge of Bolshevism would have been invaluable. Almost at the last moment, however, he decided to remain at home, where he thought he could serve a more useful purpose by maintaining contact with Litvinoff, and by interpreting the peculiar mentality of the Bolsheviks to the mandarins in Whitehall. Subsequent events were to prove the wisdom of his action. Although at the time I regretted his decision, I was to be grateful later for his presence in England, when I ran my neck into the noose in Moscow. As a substitute for Leeper I took Captain Hicks, who had recently returned from Russia, where he had done useful work as a poison gas expert. A man of great personal charm, he was popular with Russians and understood their mentality. He was, too, a good linguist with a first-class knowledge of German and a working acquaintance with Russian. His views on the situation were in tune with my own. I never regretted my decision. He was a most loyal colleague and devoted friend. As my commercial expert I took with me Edward Birse, a Moscow business man, who had talked Russian from his cradle. Edward Phelan, a brilliant young official of the Ministry of Labour and today a prominent figure in the International Labour Office in Geneva, made up the full complement of my mission. As I was taking ciphers with me, I was also recommended to engage the services of a reliable orderly. This necessitated a letter from the War Cabinet and an interview with General Macready, the Adjutant-General. The interview was invigorating. General Macready had views on Russia. Standing before the fire-place of his room in the War Office, he delivered them in a series of snorts. An orderly for Russia! What the devil was the use of taking soldiers to Russia! Did the boys in the Foreign Office never read history? Couldn't they realise that when an army of ten millions had once broken it could not be reformed inside a generation? All military propaganda in Russia was useless and a sheer waste of money and man-power. The General's views were eminently sensible. They would have saved unnecessary bloodshed and millions of money, if they had prevailed in Whitehall during 1918. I agreed with them and between the snorts endeavoured to tell him so. I explained to him that my mission was diplomatic and not military and that my object was to establish contact with the men who at that moment were negotiating a separate peace with Germany. I obtained my orderly---a six-foot-two ex-Irish guardsman, who was drunk when he joined me at the station, slept himself sober during the journey to Edinburgh, drank himself drunk again the next morning, offered to fight me for half a crown in Princes Street, and lost himself on the way to Queensferry. We never saw him again.
I had, too, a long round of interviews with the various officials at the Foreign Office: Lord Hardinge, Eric Drummond, George Clerk, Don Gregory, John Buchan, Ronnie Campbell and Lord Robert Cecil---the last-named still supremely sceptical and still convinced that Trotsky was a German in disguise. During these first eleven days of January I derived a minor thrill from the English Press. My mission was vested with a certain amount of secrecy. There had been, however, the usual leakage. There were paragraphs, facetious or flattering according to the views of the particular newspaper, about the young man from Moscow. One evening paper excelled itself by declaring that I had been appointed Ambassador to Russia, that the choice had lain between Mr. Arthur Henderson and myself, and that my knowledge of Russia had turned the scales in my favour.
Lord Milner I saw almost daily. Five days before my departure I dined alone with him at Brooks'. He was in his most inspiring mood. He talked to me with a charming frankness about the war, about the future of England, about his own career, and about the opportunities of youth. He was bitter about the Foreign Office, called Mr. Balfour a harmless old gentleman, and castigated other prominent permanent officials who are still living. Before he died, he said, he would like to have six months at the Foreign Office. He would begin with a broom---no, he would start with a fire. He would have liked to see Lord Robert Cecil as Foreign Secretary, with Sir Eyre Crowe as his assistant.
About the war he was inclined to be pessimistic. As he gave me my final instructions about my mission, he pointed out the gravity of the situation. If the submarine menace were not speedily averted, a decision could not be long delayed. He envisaged the possibility and even the probability of a peace by negotiation. As far as Russia was concerned, things were so bad that it did not matter very much what I did. My main task must be to do as much harm to the Germans as possible, to put a spoke in the wheels of the separate peace negotiations, and to stiffen by whatever means I could the Bolshevik resistance to German demands. All the information I could obtain as to the real nature and strength of the Bolshevik movement would be extremely valuable. If I was in any difficulty, I was to telegraph to him direct.
I find it hard to write of Lord Milner in anything but superlatives. He never shone in the market-place of politics. He had none of the tricks of the politician. Certainly, he was no orator as Mr. Lloyd George is. But in a Cabinet, most of whose members were profoundly ignorant of everything outside England, his wide range of knowledge, his capacity for real work, and his comprehensive grasp of administrative detail made him invaluable. To Mr. Lloyd George he was the indispensable collaborator, who could be relied upon to read every paper, to sift every scheme, and to form an unbiased and detached view of every problem that was put before him. His nobleness of mind, his entirely natural charm of manner, his lofty idealism, the complete absence of ambitious scheming or of anything approaching self-conceit in his character, and his broad and vigorous patriotism made him the ideal inspirer of youth. With young men, too, he was at his best. He liked to surround himself with them. He believed they should be given their chance. For to the end of his life this man, so gentle and understanding in manner and so tenacious in purpose, was deeply concerned with the future of England. He was, too, very far from being the Jingo and the Conservative reactionary whom popular opinion at one time represented him to be. On the contrary, many of his views on society were startlingly modern. He believed in the highly organised state, in which service, efficiency, and hard work were more important than titles or money-bags. He had little respect for the aristocrat, who was effete, and none at all for the financier, who had made his money not by production but by manipulation of the market.
I must have been one of the last of the young men to worship at his feet, and there I have remained. I see no Milners in our public life at present---men who are prepared to serve the State disinterestedly and with no other ambition than to serve it well, and to this day, far more than the politicians or the millionaires, he stands out as an example to the country of the ideal public servant. In the life of every nation it is character which counts in the end, and among all the so-called great men of the world whom I have met there has been none who in this respect is fit to hold a candle to Lord Milner. My own conduct must have tried him highly. He had arranged my Russian mission, not because he had anything but a profound abhorrence of Bolshevism, but because he believed that I understood the Russian situation better than most Englishmen. He was probably disappointed when I seemed to go over body and soul to the Bolsheviks. He may have regarded my subsequent failure in Russia as a reflection on his judgment. But his attitude to me underwent no change. He was as kind to me when I returned as when I set out. I dined alone again at Brooks' with him on several occasions. I was a frequent visitor at his house in Little College Street. When I went abroad again, I kept in touch with him. He took an interest in my career, and it was on his advice (taken, unfortunately, too late) that I left the Foreign Office.
In one respect Lord Milner's promotion of my interests was detrimental to my prospects. I had been selected for this Russian mission not by the Foreign Secretary but by the War Cabinet---actually, by Lord Milner and Mr. Lloyd George. The decision had been taken over the heads of the permanent officials, who chafed under the Lloyd George method of handling affairs and who resented having stray missions, headed by a junior Vice-Consul, foisted upon them.
I should have realised this at the time---indeed, I received a broad hint from Lord Robert Cecil---and with a proper humility should have placated the higher permanent officials. The Cecils and the Milners would depart with the end of the war. The Hardinges and the Tyrrells or their equivalents would remain. I did see Lord Hardinge, before I left, and was, I hope, properly humble. But I confess that I gave this aspect of my new position little thought. Adventure tugs at the heart-strings of youth. I had been given the opportunity for a great adventure, and my one thought was to start on it at once. During the month which had just passed I had seen and met, and even been listened to, by the men who were in the very heart of affairs in London. I had been selected from among God knows what weird choice of candidates for a difficult and exciting mission. I had had a colossal stroke of luck. If my head had not been turned a little---and I do not think it was---there were sure to be kind friends who would say that it had been.
My departure was in the grand manner. With Litvinoff's letter in my pocket and Lord Milner's blessing on my head, I travelled up to Edinburgh on January 12th and stayed the night with my grandmother, who cried affectionately over me. The next day, accompanied by the other members of my mission and by my wife, who had come to see us off, I made my way to Queensferry. It was a glorious, sunny day, and, as we passed the tenth milestone, suddenly the Forth Bridge came into view and drawn up in two long rows behind it the assembled might of the British battle fleet.
We arrived at the Hawes Inn in time for luncheon. The Navy had now taken charge of us, and very little information was vouchsafed to us. Sometime that afternoon we were to go on board the cruiser which was to take us to Bergen. Till dusk time lay heavy on our hands. I walked along the shore, looking at the great ships and wondering when I should be home again. I had been brought up on "Kidnapped." It was in this same salty old-fashioned Hawes Inn that Uncle Ebenezer and Captain Hoseason had made their plot to entice David Balfour on to the brig Covenant and to sell him into slavery on the American plantations. It did not seem a very happy omen. The day, too, was the thirteenth of the month. Action, however, soon banished the gloom from my thoughts. As the dusk grew into darkness, a young lieutenant came ashore and in a whisper informed us that we were to go aboard. There was a delicious secrecy and sense of mystery about the whole business. Soft-footed sailors spirited our luggage away. Then, silently, in single file, we crept down the steps of the jetty to the pinnace which was to convey us to the Yarmouth. At six p.m. we were on board. But it was not until dawn the next day that we raised anchor. Then, headed by the two destroyers which were to be our escort, we steamed slowly between the towering lines of the great battlecruisers, down past the massive cylinders of the Forth Bridge, and out into the open sea.
The Great Adventure had begun.
I had conveniently forgotten my sick leave voyage from Moscow to London, the return journey remains as clearly stamped on my mind as if it were yesterday. There was neither monotony nor much tranquillity about it. I had become some one---or, at least, something---of minor importance, and the change in my status was reflected in the different attitude towards me of those two great barometers of worldly significance: the Press and our own Legations abroad. On my first night on board the Yarmouth I dined alone in solemn state with the captain, a tall, well-built man with a strong face and a quiet, self-reliant manner. He was a grandson of W. G. Grace, the famous cricketer, and is today an admiral. The rest of my mission dined in the ward-room. For many of us that was the last meal we had on board. As soon as we had passed May Island, we ran into terrible weather with heavy seas and a raging wind. The cold, too, was bitter, and every half-hour or so we encountered a fresh blizzard. It was, in fact, the North Sea at its worst, and a light cruiser, cleared for action, was not the kind of ship best suited to face it. We could not go on deck. A goodly number of the crew and at least one officer were violently sea, sick. Hicks, Phelan and Birse were in extremis.
The next morning we arrived off the Norwegian Coast, but the seas were too stormy and the blizzards too blinding to permit our making the entry into the fjord. During the night one of our destroyers, unable to keep head with the weather, had been forced to return home. For some time we had lost touch with the other owing to the freezing of the wireless.
I have never been sea-sick in my life, but I confess frankly that I was relieved both of discomfort and of a certain amount of fear when, after twenty-four hours of cruising off the Norwegian coast, we entered the Bergen fjord. Here we were met by Commodore Gade, the Commander-in-Chief of the Norwegian fleet. He had on board his steam yacht Sir George Buchanan, General Knox, Admiral Stanley, Captain Scale and Captain Neilson, who were returning to England. I had half-an-hour's conversation with the Ambassador, who was his usual charming self. This time, however' he looked ill and tired. The first ten months of the revolution had added ten years to his life. Having said good-bye to the Ambassador and his suite, we had an excellent luncheon with Gade and at four o'clock were glad to stretch our legs on the firm ground of Bergen. The next morning we made the railway trip---the most wonderful in the world---from Bergen to Christiania. It was not to my mind so impressive in winter as in the autumn.
Christiania, whose merchants had grown fat on supplying ships and fish to the Allies, was very expensive and almost gay. Champagne began to flow at eleven o'clock in the morning and never ceased. The inhabitants, too, were very pro-British and, owing to the Norwegian loss of life from German submarines, violently anti-German. A few days before we arrived a German music-hall artist, who had been hissed by his Norwegian audience and who had expressed resentment, had been torn almost to pieces.
We had twenty-four hours at Christiania, and, although owing to the Russo-German peace negotiations I was anxious to push on as quickly as possible, the time passed pleasantly enough. I dined at our Legation and met Sir Mansfeldt Findlay, one of the tallest Englishmen in the world and certainly the tallest man in diplomacy. He was a good organiser and, aided by Charles Brudenell-Bruce, ran his huge Legation (Christiania, in peace time a diplomatic backwater, had, owing to the blockade, the largest staff of any Legation or Embassy during the war) with great efficiency. In his political views he was an extreme Conservative, who would rather have lost the war than run the risk of social upheaval in England.
In Christiania, too, we met the first of the English refugees from Russia, members of our prosperous colonies in St. Petersburg and Moscow, who in a night had seen their comfortable existence swept away before their eyes in the maelstrom of revolution. One conversation, in particular, I noted in my diary. It was with Reynolds, a well-to-do timber-merchant, who had been very intimate with members of the Embassy staff. He had lost everything, was very nervous, and was obsessed with only one idea: that we should make peace as soon as possible in order, in alliance with Germany, to restore order in Russia.
I recall this conversation because it was typical of the point of view we were to find among the Russian bourgeois in Moscow and St. Petersburg during 1918. Yet in the face of these facts, all through this period our military experts were writing memoranda about the loyal Russians and about the restoration of the Eastern front. As if there were any Russians who thought of any other interests than their own or of any other front than the civil war front, once the Bolshevik revolution had started. This is not anti-Russian prejudice. It is plain common-sense. An Englishman or a German, situated in similar circumstances, would have had the same thoughts and the same mental reactions. If there were Russians who accepted the English formula of restoring the Eastern front and who talked of the sanctity of their oath to fight until victory was assured, they did so, consciously or sub-consciously, with their tongues in their cheeks. The one aim of every Russian bourgeois (and 99 per cent of the so-called "loyal" Russians were bourgeois) was to secure the intervention of British troops (and, failing British, German troops) to re-establish order in Russia, suppress Bolshevism and restore to the bourgeois his property.
On our arrival at Stockholm we received news that civil war had broken out in Finland and that the chances of our getting through to St. Petersburg were very small. I was determined, however, to push on, and, while Sir Esmé Howard (to day Lord Howard and ex-Ambassador to the United States, then our Minister in Stockholm) telegraphed to the British authorities at Haparanda and Helsingfors to make all possible arrangements for our journey, I went off to see Vorovsky, the Bolshevik Minister, to arrange for a Russian train to meet us at the Finnish frontier.
I rather liked Vorovsky. He had a fine intellectual face with wistful grey eyes and a brown beard. He was thin, looked ascetic, and gave me the impression of a man of taste and refinement. He had beautiful hands and in Paris would have been taken immediately for an artist or a writer. I showed him my letter to Trotsky, and he promised to do everything he could to help me. He also gave me the latest news of the Russo-German peace negotiations at Brest-Litowk. From my point of view they were encouraging. At first the Germans had wanted to conclude peace with the greatest possible despatch, but now, encouraged by the defection of the Ukrainians, who had gone over body and soul to them, they were trying to force the most impossible terms upon the Bolsheviks. The negotiations, Vorovsky said, were likely to be prolonged. If it were humanly possible, he would get us to St. Petersburg in three days.
We arrived in Stockholm on Saturday, January 19th. It was Friday, January 25th, before we left for Haparanda and. Finland. Although the delay was irksome, our sojourn in Stockholm was not uninteresting. The town itself looked its best in its winter mantle of snow and clear blue sky. The weather was wonderful and the air like champagne. My hotel was besieged with visitors---mostly English and Russian refugees from Moscow and St. Petersburg, who wanted me to protect their property or to take a message to their relatives. I lunched and dined with Sir Esmé Howard and through him met M. Branting, the Swedish Socialist Prime Minister. Branting, a massive and impressive figure of a man, was the convenor of the ill-fated Stockholm Socialist Conference, which had been frowned on by Mr. Lloyd George and which had failed through the refusal of the British seamen to convey Mr. Ramsay Macdonald and Mr. Henderson across the North Sea. Branting still wanted to have his Conference and to include the Bolsheviks in his general invitation. Sir Esmé Howard, who in Stockholm probably had a better objective view of both sides in the war than any other diplomatist elsewhere, rightly concluded that we had something to gain and nothing to lose from such a Conference, and supported Mr. Branting's proposals. Like every other proposal which seemed to hint at peace, they came to nothing.
In Stockholm, too, I found some old friends---the volatile Lykiardopoulos, Guy Colebrooke, and that fine old Russian gentleman, General Wogak---and made some new ones, including Clifford Sharp, the brilliant editor of The New Statesman. "Lyki," formerly a Liberal, had now, like other Russian Liberals, become very reactionary. He tried to strike terror into our hearts with tales of horror from Russia: how in Turkestan the population was killing off the old men and women and children because there was not enough to eat; how in Petrograd people were bartering a suit of clothes for a loaf of black bread. It was madness for us to proceed on our journey. England should reverse her policy and put her money on the monarchists. The Bolsheviks would not last another month!
More interesting was my dinner with Nobel---a member of the famous Swedish family. He had spent years of his life in St. Petersburg and had large interests all over Russia. He had formed a more accurate estimate of the situation and was convinced that Bolshevism had not yet reached its apogee. Like all foreigners who had property in Russia, he was anxious for a general peace and for an Allied-cum-German intervention against the Bolsheviks. He was one of the few people who at that time had visualised Bolshevism as a world-danger. With other Swedes he had joined a rifle club in order that he might take his place behind the bourgeois barricades in the event of a proletarian rising in Sweden.
Not all my time was passed in such serious and lugubrious conversations. More frivolous entertainment was provided by Sir Coleridge Kennard, who was the Legation secretary in charge of British propaganda in Sweden. Sir Coleridge is an Orientalist, a poet, and a romanticist. Obviously, he would have imaginative ideas on propaganda. The Swedish upper-classes were pro-German. They were also sentimental and fond of late hours. Sir Coleridge conceived the fantastic but inherently sound plan of making them pro-Ally by providing Stockholm with a first class British variety entertainment. He won over the benevolent Sir Esmé Howard to his scheme. He convinced Whitehall that English beauty and English talent were more potent political factors than subsidised leading articles in the Swedish Press. And he was given almost a free hand.
He was as proud of his cabaret as Mussolini is of his dramas, and we were not allowed to leave Stockholm without seeing it. It was a great experience. We dined in the magnificent Moorish hall of the Grand Hotel, and then, beneath a star-lit sky with the moon shining on the icy waters of the fiords, we made our way to Rolf's, where Sir Coleridge held his court. Here for the first time I heard Miss Irene Browne sing "Hello, my dearie." Here, too, Miss Betty Chester made her contribution to the Allied victory by a vivacity which drew roars of applause from the sentimental, punch-drinking Swedes. It was an excellent and most successful form of propaganda, for it paid its own way. For me it was to be the last link with Western civilisation for nine months.
The next day I received a message from Vorovsky requesting me to come to see him. He had received a telegram from St. Petersburg. All arrangements had been made for our safe conduct from the Finnish frontier. He also gave me the latest news from Russia. It was disturbing. Shingarieff and Kokoshkin, two ex-ministers of the Kerensky Government, had been brutally murdered in their beds by sailors in the Marine Hospital in St. Petersburg, to which they had been taken from the Petropavlosk Fortress. I had known both men intimately---more especially Kokoshkin, who was an old Moscow friend. Each belonged to the very best type of Russian. Their whole lives had been spent in disinterested public service. They were Liberals, who had worked incessantly to help the down-trodden and oppressed, and it would have been hard to find two men in public life more free from personal ambition or self-seeking. The news of this butchery filled me with a sickening horror. The revolution was working out to pattern. Its chief victims were to be amongst those democrats who had trusted most in the common-sense of the people. Even Vorovsky was shocked and seemed ashamed. Five years later he himself was to be shot down by the pistol of a Russian monarchist in the dining-room of the Beau Rivage Hotel in Lausanne.
That same evening, after a series of hurried farewells, we left for Haparanda, the Swedish frontier town on the northern extremity of the Gulf of Bothnia. The journey was tedious, lasting more than twenty-six hours. There were many delays, the engine puffing and snorting as though unwilling that we should go farther. And, indeed, there would have been every justification for our turning back. Civil war had broken out in Finland between the Whites and the Reds. The Whites held the North. The Reds had seized control of Helsingfors. We should have to cross the line of fire between the opposing forces. The conductors and Swedish passengers on the train told us we should never get through.
On the morning of Saturday, January 26th, we arrived at Haparanda and, after some discussion and much uncertainty, we crossed over to Tornea on the Finnish side, where we spent the whole day debating our next decision. Having come so far, I was determined to push on. Thanks to the energy of Greener, the British Passport Control officer, we succeeded in persuading the Finns to run a train, and at ten in the evening we set out into the unknown. Our fellow passengers were mainly Russian emigrants---former exiles of the Tsarist régime---who were returning to the new Paradise. Most of them were in a state of abject terror. Doubtless, they were afraid of the Finnish Whites, who at this stage of our journey were in complete control.
At eight p.m. the next night we arrived at Ruhimaki, where we were told that the bridge at Kuovala had been destroyed by White Guards and that we could not proceed farther. We had a choice between returning to Stockholm or persuading the guard to make a detour and take his train to Helsingfors. We spent the night in the station and the next morning came on to Helsingfors to find the capital in a state of revolution. Desultory firing was going on in the square outside the station. On the platform we met Lednitsky, a leading Polish lawyer, whom I had known in Moscow. He informed me that the hotels were crowded with refugees, that people were sleeping in threes and fours even in the bathrooms, and that we had no chance of obtaining accommodation. He offered to try to find rooms for us at the house of a Polish priest. When the firing seemed to have died down, I left Birse and Phelan in charge of our luggage and wandered off with Hicks and Lednitsky to find the priest. The priest had no available accommodation. We left Lednitsky with him and, armed with a map, set out on our long tramp back to the station. The weather was vile. There had been a thaw, and the snow, dirty and yellow, was soft and slushy. The firing in the side-streets sounded unpleasantly close. Then suddenly, as we mounted a hill and turned into a broad boulevard, we ran into a fleeing mob pursued by a detachment of sailors with a machine-gun. The sailors were spraying the street with bullets. The pursued had sought the shelter of the pavements. Some were rushing helter-skelter as fast as their legs could carry them. Others were trying to break open the locked doors of the shops and houses. Several corpses lay face downwards in the snow. The whole rush lasted only a few seconds, and Hicks and I, who were a fine mark in the middle of the road, had not time to turn back. We flopped on our faces in the snow. Very gingerly I held up a white handkerchief, while Hicks waved his British passport. The next few seconds seemed like eternity. The sailors, equally cautious, advanced very slowly with their machine-guns and pointed rifles. Fortunately, they were Russians, and my letter to Trotsky worked wonders.
The sailors, in fact, turned out to be a godsend. Satisfied regarding our bona fides, they took us to the station, where they gave strict orders for the safe custody of our baggage. Then they conducted us to the British Consulate. Here we met Grove and Fawcett, his Vice-Consul. They succeeded in fixing us up for the night in a small pension, and the next day Fawcett, who knew every one in Helsingfors, persuaded the Red Finnish Government to give us a train and a safe conduct to the broken bridge on the other side of which we hoped to find a Russian train.
At seven o'clock the same evening we set out once more on our Odyssey. Thanks to our Red safe conduct, we travelled very comfortably. Our train, at least, was heated, and the accommodation, if rough, was ample. We were favoured, too, by circumstances. The Finnish Reds were especially kind to us, because at that moment the White Finns were negotiating for German assistance.
When we came to the bridge we had a moment of trepidation. Rumour, however, had exaggerated, as usual, the extent of the destruction. The line, it is true, had been torn up. The arch of the bridge had been buckled. But the bridge itself was still standing and still passable on foot. At midnight we got out of our warm train into the freezing night. Then, with the aid of a lantern, we crept our way across the bridge. It was another eerie performance, but once again it was safely accomplished. The Red Finns who accompanied us---we had been provided with an armed escort---were both kind and efficient. In two shifts they carried our heavy luggage across the bridge for us. This was no mean feat, for we had provided ourselves with an abundance of stores, and our packing cases were both heavy and cumbersome. Not so much as a parcel was missing when the task was completed.
What was more, thanks to the intervention of the Finnish Reds, a train with steam up was waiting for us on the other side. We entrained at once and at seven on the following evening we arrived in St. Petersburg without further incident or delay. We were the last British passengers to get through---the last British officials to make the journey from London to St. Petersburg via Scandinavia until the end of the war.
IT was a very different St. Petersburg to which I had returned. The streets were in an appalling state. The snow had not been swept away for weeks, and the sleigh-drive from the Finland station on the north side of the river to the Embassy was like a ride on a scenic railway---without the security. The people in the streets were depressed and unhappy. Very dreadful, too, was the condition of the horses. They looked as if they had not had a square meal for weeks. Just before we came to the Troitski Bridge, we passed a dead horse. It was frozen into the snow and had obviously been there for some days.
At the Embassy there was some confusion of thought and much division of opinion. Trotsky was at Brest-Litovsk endeavouring to make peace with the Germans, and no one seemed to know quite what was happening. The Embassy staff was split up into recognitionists and anti-recognitionists, and Lindley (now Sir Francis Lindley and H.B.M.'s Ambassador to Japan), who was in charge, steered an indecisive course between the two conflicting groups. Until we could find a suitable house, the members of my mission were quartered on different members of the other British missions in St. Petersburg. My own good Samaritan was Rex Hoare, now British Minister in Teheran and then second secretary at the Embassy. A charming companion with a slow drawl, which belied an extremely active intelligence, Hoare was one of the few Englishmen who could take an objective view of the revolution. He was in favour of recognising the Bolshevik Government, and his views were in close accordance with my own. That night, as I sought to read myself to sleep, I found beside my bed a copy of Lord Cromer's "Modern Egypt." In it I came across an aphorism, which had guided Cromer's conduct in Egypt: "Il faut s'accomoder aux circonstances et en tirer parti même de ce qui nous déplaît." It seemed an excellent guide for my own conduct in the difficult situation in which I now found myself.
The next day I had my first interview with Chicherin, who in Trotsky's absence at Brest-Litovsk was in charge of the Foreign Office. He received me in the same building in which Sazonoff had formerly held sway. Petroff, a swarthy Jew, was present during our interview, and the serio-comic nature of the situation may best be illustrated by the fact that both men had been released from an English prison in order to return to Russia.
A Russian of good family, who long before the revolution had sacrificed a fortune for his Socialist convictions, Chicherin was a man of great culture. In his youth he had begun his career as an official of the Tsarist Foreign Office, and he spoke French, English and German with fluency and accuracy. He was dressed in a hideous yellow-brown tweed suit, which he had brought with him from England, and during the six months of our almost daily contact I never saw him in any other. With his sandy-coloured beard and hair and his sandy-coloured suit he looked like one of those grotesque figures made by children on the sea-shore. Only his eyes, small and red-rimmed like a ferret's, gave any sign of life. His narrow shoulders were bent with much toiling over his desk. Among a group of men who worked for sixteen hours out of the twenty-four, he was the most indefatigable and relentless in his attention to his duties. An idealist, whose loyalty to his own party was unshakable, he was extraordinarily mistrustful of every one outside it.
Our first interview was satisfactory but vague. Later, when I knew my Chicherin better, I learnt that he never took a decision without reference to Lenin. On this occasion, however, he had evidently received instructions to be friendly. Indeed, the Bolsheviks, whose obvious policy was to play off the Germans against the Allies and the Allies against the Germans, welcomed my arrival. In the Bolshevik Press the importance of my mission and of my own position was wilfully exaggerated, and I was described not only as the man of confidence of Mr. Lloyd George, but also as an influential politician, whose sympathies were entirely with the Bolsheviks! This description of my standing caused some misunderstanding among the other Allied missions in St. Petersburg. In particular, one American intelligence officer, whose chief contribution to the war was the purchase of a stack of documents, so palpably forged that even our own secret service would have nothing to do with them, reported to his Government that a dangerous English revolutionary had arrived in St. Petersburg and was hobnobbing with the Bolsheviks.
Chicherin was honest enough in his account of what was happening at Brest. He told me that the negotiations were going badly and that now was the great opportunity for England to make a friendly gesture towards Russia. Almost in the same breath he informed me that the Bolsheviks were now busily engaged in organising a new International, in which there would he no room for moderate Socialists like Branting and Henderson. This, in fact, was the beginning of the notorious Third International.
Another new- acquaintance of these first days in the Bolshevised St. Petersburg was Raymond Robins, the head of the American Red Cross Mission, and brother of Elizabeth Robins, the well-known authoress. On the third evening of my arrival Rex Hoare invited him to dine with us, and we had a good talk. Robins, who was a philanthropist and a humanitarian rather than a politician, was a wonderful orator. His conversation, like Mr. Churchill's, was always a monologue, but it was never dull, and his gift of allegory was as remarkable as it was original. With his black hair and his aquiline features, he had a most striking appearance. He was an Indian chief with a Bible for his tomahawk. He had been a leading figure in Roosevelt's "Bull Moose" campaign for the American Presidency in 1912. Although a rich man himself, he was an anti-capitalist. Yet, in spite of his sympathies for the under-dog, he was a worshipper of great men. Hitherto, his two heroes had been Roosevelt and Cecil Rhodes. Now Lenin had captured his imagination. Strangely enough, Lenin was amused by the hero-worship, and of all foreigners Robins was the only man whom Lenin was always willing to see and who ever succeeded in imposing his own personality on the unemotional Bolshevik leader.
In a less official sense Robins had a similar mission to my own. He was the intermediary between the Bolsheviks and the American Government and had set himself the task of persuading President Wilson to recognise the Soviet régime. He knew no Russian and very little about Russia. But in Gumberg, a Russo-American Jew, who for years had been in close touch with the Bolshevik movement, he had an assistant who supplied him with the necessary knowledge and arguments. And Gumberg's arguments in Robins's mouth made a most convincing case for recognition. I liked Robins. For the next four months we were to be in daily and almost hourly contact.
My first twelve days in St. Petersburg wore spent in an endless round of discussions with Chicherin and our own officials. My relations with Lindley, who as Chargé d'Affaires might reasonably have resented my intrusion into the political arena (as the official representative of the British Government he had, of course, no dealings with the Bolsheviks), were of the friendliest. I co-operated with him to the fullest extent, reporting everything to him, and consulted him about every step I took, and in this way what might have been an awkward and unpleasant situation was averted.
I made, however, little progress, and most of my telegrams to London remained unanswered. We were still completely ignorant of the true course of the negotiations at Brest, and Chicherin did little to enlighten our darkness. All that he would admit was that, while German militarism and British capitalism were equally hateful to the Bolsheviks, German militarism was for the moment the greater danger. Germany was now the centre of an anti-Bolshevik league. She was supporting the bourgeois cause in Finland, Rumania, and the Ukraine. The Russian bourgeoisie were looking to her to intervene in Russia and to restore them to their former position. Here was a situation which the British Government could exploit to its own benefit. The Bolsheviks would welcome British support.
On February 9th I had an interview of a more intriguing nature. Various commissions of the Central Powers peace delegation were actually working in St. Petersburg. Through a reliable channel I received a demand for an interview from one of the Bulgarian delegates. As I had nothing to risk in seeing him, I acceded to the request. In my diary he is entered merely as S. His name, I think, was Semidoff. In a long and interesting conversation he told me that Bulgaria was ripe for peace and revolution and that with encouragement (which, I assume, meant money) from England there would he little difficulty in starting a movement to dethrone King Ferdinand and expel the pro-German ministers. Obviously, the man may have been an agent-provocateur sent to me by the Bolsheviks.
In this case, however, the odds are that he was genuine. I reported the incident to London and heard no more about it.
While awaiting Trotsky's return from Brest, we took advantage of this respite to establish our mission in a large and well-furnished flat on the Palace Quay almost directly opposite the Peter and Paul Fortress and within a few hundred yards of the Embassy. There was, too, an excellent cellar, which we took over at a reasonable price. We could, in fact, have had a palace for next to nothing. The unfortunate aristocracy, deprived of everything, was only too glad to find a foreign official who could, even temporarily, safeguard its property.
As a house-warming I gave a luncheon party to which I invited the Embassy staff and other prominent British officials in St. Petersburg. My chief guest was Robins. He arrived late, having just come from Lenin. He brought with him the news that Trotsky had refused to sign a shameful peace but that, as Russia could not fight, she would go on demobilising.
During luncheon Robins spoke little, but afterwards, when we assembled in the smoking-room, his tongue was loosed. Standing by the mantelpiece, his black hair smoothed back with characteristic gesture, he made a moving appeal for Allied support of the Bolsheviks. He began quietly, analysing the various Allied arguments against recognition and demolishing the ridiculous Allied theory that the Bolsheviks were working for a German victory. He drew a touching picture of a helpless people facing with courage and without arms the greatest military machine in history. We had nothing to hope from the demoralised Russian bourgeoisie, who were actually relying on German aid for the restoration of their rights and property. Then he began his eulogy of Trotsky. The Red Leader was "a four kind son of a bitch, but the greatest Jew since Christ. If the German General Staff bought Trotsky, they bought a lemon." As he worked up to his peroration, he became almost indignant over the folly of the Allies in "playing the German game in Russia." Then he stopped dramatically and took a piece of paper from the flap pocket of his uniform. I can see him now. Consciously or not, he had provided himself with an almost perfect setting. Before him a semi-circle of stolid Englishmen. Behind him the roaring log-fire, its tongues of flame reflected in weird shadows on the yellow-papered walls. Outside, through the window, the glorious view of the slender spire of Peter and Paul with the great fire-ball of the setting sun casting rays of blood on the snow-clad waters of the Neva. Once again he pushed his hair back with his hand and shook his head like a lion. "Have any of you read this?" he asked. "I found it this morning in one of your newspapers." Then in a low voice, quivering with emotion, he read Major McCrae's poem:
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved,
and now we lie
.....In Flanders Fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw The Torch;
he yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep,
though Poppies grow
.....In Flanders Fields.
When he had finished, there was an almost deathly silence. For what seemed an eternity Robins himself turned away and looked out of the window. When, squaring his shoulders, he came back at us. "Boys!" he said. "I guess we're all here for one purpose---to see that the German General Staff don't win this war."
Three quick strides, and he was by my side. He wrung my hand. "Good-bye, Lockhart;' he said. Four more strides, and he was gone.
As a dramatic performance Robins' effort was immense. Today, it sounds like emotional hysteria. Doubtless, too, he had rehearsed all his effects before his shaving glass in the morning. But at the moment his words made a deep impression on every one who heard him. There was not a laugh or a smile. Even "Benji" Bruce, with all his Ulster prejudices against revolution, was temporarily convinced that recognition or at least support of the Bolsheviks against German aggression was the right policy. General Poole, who afterwards commanded the ill-fated expedition to Archangel, was then of the same opinion.
Three days afterwards I had my first interview with Trotsky in the Russian Foreign Office. It lasted for two hours, during which we discussed all the modalities of Anglo-Russian cooperation. As one of the accusations levelled against me afterwards was that I had been infatuated from the first by Trotsky and was completely under his influence, I give my first impressions of him exactly as I entered them in my diary at the time:
"February 15th, 1918. Had a two hours' conversation with L. D. T. (Lev Davidovitch Trotsky). He struck me as perfectly honest and sincere in his bitterness against the Germans. He has a wonderfully quick mind and a rich, deep voice. With his broad chest, his huge forehead, surmounted by great masses of black, waving hair, his strong, fierce eyes, and his heavy protruding lips, he is the very incarnation of the revolutionary of the bourgeois caricatures. He is neat about his dress. He wore a clean soft collar and his nails were carefully manicured. I agree with Robins. If the Boche bought Trotsky, he bought a lemon. His dignity has suffered an affront. He is full of belligerent fury against the Germans for the humiliation to which they have exposed him at Brest. He strikes me as a man who would willingly die fighting for Russia provided there was a big enough audience to see him do it."
Trotsky was angry with the Germans. At that moment he was not quite certain what the German reaction would be to his famous declaration of "no peace and no war," but he had a shrewd idea that it would be unpleasant.
Unfortunately, he was also full of bitterness against the English. We had not handled Trotsky wisely. At the time of the first revolution he was in exile in America. He was then neither a Menshevik nor a Bolshevik. He was what Lenin called a Trotskist---that is to say, an individualist and an opportunist.
A revolutionary with the temperament of an artist and with undoubted physical courage, he had never been and never could be a good party man. His conduct prior to the first revolution had incurred the severest condemnation by Lenin. "Trotsky, as always," wrote Lenin in 1915, "is, in principle, opposed to the Socialist Chauvinists, but in practise he is always in agreement with them."
In the spring of 1917 Kerensky requested the British Government to facilitate Trotsky's return to Russia. Common sense seemed to indicate one of two courses: to refuse, on the grounds that Trotsky was a danger to the Allied cause; or to allow him to return unmolested. As usual in our attitude towards Russia, we adopted disastrous half-measures. Trotsky was treated as a criminal. At Halifax, Nova Scotia, he was separated from his wife and children and interned in a prison camp at Amherst with German prisoners for four weeks. His finger-prints were taken. Then, having roused his bitter hate, we allowed him to return to Russia. I am giving Trotsky's own account of the incident. I learnt afterwards that it was substantially correct. The outraged Trotsky came back to Russia, threw in his lot with the Bolsheviks, and relieved his injured feelings by writing a fiercely anti-British pamphlet entitled "A Prisoner of the English." Some trace of his resentment showed itself during our interview. I succeeded, however, in soothing him. The German danger was uppermost in his mind, and his last words, as I left him, were: "Now is the big opportunity for the Allied Governments."
I returned from my interview to our flat only to find an urgent message from Robins requesting me to come to see him at once. I found him in a state of great agitation. He had been in conflict with Saalkind, a nephew of Trotsky and then Assistant Commissar for Foreign Affairs. Saalkind had been rude, and the American, who had a promise from Lenin that, whatever happened, a train would always be ready for him at an hour's notice, was determined to exact an apology or to leave the country. When I arrived, he had just finished telephoning to Lenin. He had delivered his ultimatum, and Lenin had promised to give a reply within ten minutes. I waited, while Robins fumed. Then the telephone rang and Robins picked up the receiver. Lenin had capitulated. Saalkind was dismissed from his post. But he was an old member of the Party. Would Robins have any objection if Lenin sent him as a Bolshevik emissary to Berne? Robins smiled grimly. "Thank you, Mr. Lenin," he said. "As I can't send the son of a bitch to hell, 'burn' is the next best thing you can do with him."
This was the beginning of what was to be a hectic month. The Germans lost little time in replying to Trotsky's refusal to sign their peace terms and, to the consternation of the Bolsheviks, began to advance on St. Petersburg. At first the Bolsheviks made some show of resistance. Orders were given in this sense to the fleet and to the army. Trotsky himself, whom I was now seeing daily, informed me that, even if Russia could not resist, she would wage a partisan war to the best of her ability. Very soon, however, it became clear that, in the military sense of the word, there could be no resistance. The Bolsheviks had come into power on a peace slogan. A war slogan might easily bring about their ruin. The bourgeoisie were openly delighted at the prospect of the German advance, which had emboldened the anti-Bolshevik Press to attack the Bolsheviks with a frenzied fury. The determining factor was the attitude of the troops. On the rumour that the war was to be renewed desertions from the front assumed the proportions of panic flight, and, after an all-night sitting of the Commissars, a telegram was sent to the Germans capitulating entirely and asking for peace on any terms.
In the Bolshevik-Left Social-Revolutionary coalition, of which the Lenin Government was composed, there was a holy-war Party. It included Bolsheviks like Petroff, Bucharin and Radek and, numerically, it was nearly as strong as the peace party. Lenin, however, was for peace. Without peace he could not consolidate his position. It was now that he formulated his policy of "lavirovat" of which the best translation is the French "reculer pour mieux sauter." Trotsky, as usual, steered a middle course. He wanted to fight. He considered that war was inevitable. If the Allies would send a promise of support, he informed me that he would sway the decision of the Government in favour of war. I sent several telegrams to London requesting an official message that would enable me to strengthen Trotsky's hands. No message was sent.
On February 23rd the German terms were received. They were considerably stiffer in their territorial demands than the Treaty of Versailles, and once again the ranks of the Bolsheviks were torn with dissension. The next day, after a fierce and passionate debate, the Central Executive Committee decided by 112 votes to 86 to accept the German terms. Lenin's cold, calculated logic dominated the meeting. There were, however, 25 abstentions. Among them was the vote of Trotsky, who during the discussion remained skulking in his room.
On the afternoon of the debate I telephoned to Trotsky. He had given me his private telephone, and he answered the call himself. "May I speak to Citizen Trotsky?" I asked. There was a growl of "No" from the other end. But I had recognised his voice. "Lev Davidovitch," I said quickly. "This is Lockhart. I want to see you immediately!' There was a moment's silence. Then another growl: "It's no use. But come at once if you like. I'm at Smolny!"
Smolny---in Tsarist days a seminary for young girls of good family---was the Bolshevik headquarters. It had a picturesque situation next door to a monastery---a pleasant blue and white building on the outskirts of the city. The Institute itself was grey, with an entrance like a Greek temple. It reminded me of the old Royal Military College building at Sandhurst.
As I made my way past the armed guards who with machine guns and fixed bayonets were posted before the gates, my pass, signed by Trotsky himself, was subjected to the closest scrutiny. Finally, I was taken to the commandant, a tall sailor, whom I was to meet again in less pleasant circumstances, and in a few minutes I was being piloted upstairs through a maze of corridors and class-rooms to Trotsky's sanctum on the second floor. I made a mental note of the various notices still posted on the walls: Vth Class Dormitory, Linen Room, Drawing Class. Formerly these corridors had resounded to the gentle tramp of girls' slippers. Everything, one could be sure, had been immaculate; the only unseemliness a foolish giggle. Now all was dirt and confusion. Sailors, Red guards, students and working-men lounged against the walls. None of them looked as if he had washed for a fortnight. Cigarette ends and crumpled news-sheets strewed the floors.
Trotsky's own room was an exception. Lofty and well-lit, it contained a red carpet. There was a fine birch-wood writing desk. There was even a waste-paper basket. The habitual neatness of its occupant was everywhere manifest.
The occupant himself, however, was in the worst of tempers. "Have you any message from London?" he asked, still scowling. I told him that I had not yet had a reply to my telegrams, but that, if the Bolsheviks would make a genuine effort to prevent half Russia from falling into German hands, I was confident that British support would not be withheld. "You have no message," he said. "Well, I have. While you are here trying to throw dust in my eyes, your countrymen and the French have been intriguing against us with the Ukrainians, who have already sold themselves to the Germans. Your Government is working for Japanese intervention in Siberia. Your other missions here are plotting against us with all the bourgeois scum. Look at this," he shouted. He seized a bundle of papers on his desk and thrust them into my hands. They were the alleged originals of forged documents which had already been shown to me. They were typed on paper with the stamp of the German General Staff. They were signed by various German staff officers including, I think, Colonel Bauer. They were addressed to Trotsky and they contained various instructions, which he as a German agent was to carry out. One instruction was an order to facilitate the passage by rail of two German submarines from Berlin to Vladivostok.
I had seen these documents before. They had been hawked round the Allied missions in St. Petersburg for some time. One set of "originals" had been bought by an American agent. Months afterwards it was discovered that these letters, purporting to come from such different centres as Spa, Berlin, and Stockholm, had been written on the same typewriter.
Fig. 1. PASS SIGNED BY TROTSKY
SOVIET OF THE PEOPLE'S
27th February, 1918.
I request all Organisations, Soviets and Commissars of Railway Stations to give every assistance to the members of the English Mission, Messrs. R. B. Lockhart, V. L. Hicks and D. Garstin.
Commissar for Foreign Affairs
P.S. Personal stores of provisions not to be confiscated.
I smiled, but Trotsky was not to be placated. "So this is what your agents waste their time and money on," he hissed. "Your intrigues here have only helped the Germans. I hope you are proud of your work. Your Foreign Office does not deserve to win a war. Your policy towards Russia right from the beginning has been indecisive and vacillating. Your Lloyd George is like a man playing roulette and scattering chips on every number. And now I have to put up with this. Do you know that, while your fools of spies are trying to prove that I am a German agent, my friends down there---" he waved his arm airily towards the room below where the Central Executive Committee was sitting---"are calling me an Ententophile?" There was some justification for his attack. The British Government was entitled to regard Bolshevism as a scourge and an evil. It might make war on it or ignore it severely. But it was sheer folly to continue to regard it as a movement fostered solely for the furtherance of German ends. When I had told Trotsky that I had received no reply to my telegrams, I had been strictly truthful. I had, however, received messages from our Foreign Office. They still expressed Lord Robert Cecil's doubts and suspicions regarding Trotsky. If I had succeeded in convincing Whitehall that Trotsky was not a German staff officer in disguise, he was still a German agent. It was an unsatisfactory interview. The most I could extract from Trotsky was that, if peace were signed, it would be of short duration. The Bolsheviks had no intention of observing the German terms. He promised, however, to keep me fully informed. The same night Pokrovsky, Chicherin, and Karachan left for Brest-Litovsk to sign the peace. With the dislocation of the railway traffic and the Bolshevik genius for protraction the actual signing was to be delayed for another week.
In the meantime the uncertainty regarding the peace negotiations and the advance of the Germans towards St. Petersburg had thrown the Allied Embassies into the wildest confusion. For hours on end there were long conferences regarding the policy to be pursued. Were the Embassies and missions to remain or were they to be evacuated? If they waited too long, they ran the risk of falling into the hands of the Germans. The decision to evacuate was forced by the action of the Germans, who refused to stop their advance until the Bolsheviks had actually signed the dictated peace treaty.
The decision having been taken, there remained the delicate task of obtaining Bolshevik visas for the large number of British officials and agents, many of whom were not entered on the diplomatic list. The Bolsheviks, who regarded the departure of the Allied Embassies in much the same manner as a gambler regrets the loss of an ace, were likely to make difficulties.
The securing of the visas was left to me, and, armed with a sheaf of passports, I drove down to the Foreign Office to try my luck. In the absence of Trotsky and Chicherin, I was received by Petroff, whose imprisonment in England had not increased his affection for British officials. After informing me that there could be no objection to the departure of bona fide diplomatists, he referred me to Lutsky, an unpleasant Jewish lawyer, who was in charge of the passport department.
He was seated at his desk in a large room, the only other occupant of which was a girl typist, who sat at a small table in the corner. Lutsky's rudeness made me boil with rage. He was a rat, and I should have liked to shake him. I kept my temper, while he went through my huge pile of passports. "My orders are that only genuine diplomatists may receive visas," he said. "All these people are not on the Embassy staff." I explained patiently that my list was genuine and that the bearer of every passport was attached in some form or other to the Embassy. He scrutinized each photograph closely. To my relief he passed General Poole and various other officers who had been photographed in uniform. The pile was nearly finished, and I thought I was about to achieve a complete success. The rat, however, was enjoying his short reign. He was determined to let me feel his newly acquired power. He picked out a passport. "I know this man," he said. "He is a spy. You are trying to deceive me in the same way as the French and Italians have done." He stormed at me for a few minutes. "For this dupery I shall refuse all visas." I stood up, still keeping my temper under control. "In that case," I replied, "please allow me to telephone to Trotsky. Here is his private telephone number and here is my pass to him signed in his own handwriting." Lutsky hummed and hawed and changed his tune. "Very well then," he said, putting the rejected passport on one side, "I shall stamp the others, but this one I shall not stamp."
At this moment the Marchese Della Torretta, the Italian Chargé d'Affaires and later Italian Ambassador in London and Foreign Minister under Mussolini, was announced. Lutsky sprang to his feet. In preparing for a new scene, he became almost friendly to me. Once again he went rapidly through my passports. He rejected several which belonged to members of the British colony and added them to the passport which he had already turned down. He called his typist. "Sit down at my desk and stamp these passports," he said, pointing to the large pile. "The others are to be retained until further instructions."
Then, puffing out his little chest, he advanced to the middle of the room to receive the Italian Marchese standing. The scene that followed was the most extraordinary that I have ever witnessed, perhaps the most extraordinary that has ever taken place between two representatives of foreign Governments. As soon as the Marchese entered the room, Lutsky overwhelmed him with a torrent of abuse. There had been some row about an Italian deputy called Count Frasso, who had been arrested by the Bolsheviks and who had been included in the Italian official passport list. There seemed no end to the epithets which Lutsky showered on the unfortunate Italian. "Bandits, sneaks, sons of bitches" were. among the mildest. Both men were of small stature. At first Torretta, gentle, correct and scrupulously polite, tried to remonstrate. His protests produced a further storm of violence. Torretta then became hysterical and almost tearful. His face went a ghastly white. With his silver-grey hair and his short black coat he reminded me of the Rabbit in "Alice in Wonderland." His hands clutched nervously at his trouser legs. Then he, too, began to scream. It seemed only a matter of seconds before the two men must come to blows.
The scene fascinated me, but I had work of my own to do. Among my rejected passports was the passport of Terence Keyes, a brother of Admiral Keyes and a Colonel in our Intelligence Service. I knew that he had been engaged in various anti-Bolshevik schemes. If his passport were to be held up, things might be awkward. In the meantime the girl was stamping my passports with one eye on her work and the other on the drama which was taking place before us. She was pretty. I talked to her gently, and she smiled. I continued to talk, and, as we talked, I began to fiddle with the passports. As I was whispering to her, I slipped Keyes's passport into the large pile. And, God bless her blue eyes, she stamped it!
Just as her work was finished, I heard Lutsky flinging his last word at Torretta: 'Not a single Italian is to leave," and, crestfallen and crumpled, the Marchese crept out of the room. Thoroughly satisfied with himself, Lutsky came over to his desk. I had the viséd passports, Keyes's among them, under my arm. The half-dozen rejected ones were still lying on his table. "May I go now?" I said politely.
"Certainly," he replied.
I walked away and then turned back.
"I think I had better take the rejected passports as well," I said. "Their owners may get into trouble without them."
He shrugged his shoulders. In his mind he was still fighting his battle with Torretta. "Take them," he said, and, picking them up slowly, I made a dignified exit.
That night the British and French officials (there were, of course, no Italians) left by special train for Bieloostroff and the Finnish frontier. Petroff, who was Acting Commissar for Foreign Affairs, went down on the engine for a final revision of the passports. There was trouble with the French, but all our party, including Terence Keyes, passed the frontier without a hitch.
If my mission in Russia failed in every other respect, it was at least successful in this, that it saved some forty or fifty British officials from the indignities and humiliations that were heaped upon their French and Italian colleagues.
There was a pleasant curtain to this passport drama. On the day after the departure of the Embassies Lutsky was arrested for granting visas to French subjects who were not entitled to them. He was accused of having accepted French money. That night I dined well on an affair that was well ended. I had used no bribes---only my innate Celtic persuasiveness and a pair of Russian eyes.
THE Allied Embassies left on February 28th. The next day I went to Smolny and had my first interview with Lenin.
I felt a little forlorn. My own position was now vaguer than ever. But I had decided to remain at my post for two reasons. The Bolsheviks had not yet signed the peace terms. They probably would do so, but even then the peace was likely to be of short duration. Here was a position which I might usefully exploit. Secondly, so long as the Bolsheviks held the reins of government in Russia, I felt that it would be foolish to cut off all contact with them and to leave the field open to the Germans. I was convinced that their internal strength was far greater than most foreign observers realised and that there was no other power in Russia which was capable of replacing them.
This, indeed, was the fundamental difference between Whitehall and myself. The consensus of official opinion in London seemed to be that Bolshevism would be swept away within a few weeks. My instinct told me that, weak as the Bolsheviks were, the demoralised forces of the anti-Bolsheviks in Russia were still weaker. In the intensity of the civil strife which was now developing, the Great War had ceased to have any significance to all classes of Russians. In so far as Germany was our main enemy (and at this state few Englishmen regarded Bolshevism as a serious menace to Western civilisation), we had nothing to gain by stimulating civil war. If we took sides against the Bolsheviks, we should be backing the weaker horse and would have to employ large forces to ensure even a temporary success.
In informing Lindley of my desire to remain, I made use of these arguments. He made no objection. I therefore sent back to England Phelan and Birse, who in the situation which had now arisen could be of little service to me, and asked for Rex Hoare, whose views were in sympathy with my own and whose steadying influence would have been of great value to me. He was willing to stay on, but Lindley, perhaps rightly, decided that, as my mission was nominally an unofficial one, he was not justified in allowing me to retain the services of a professional diplomatist. He was quite willing that I should take on any official who was willing to remain and who was outside the permanent staff of the Embassy. There were several volunteers, and from them I selected Dennis Garstin, a brother of the well-known novelist and a young cavalry captain, who spoke Russian with tolerable accuracy. Other English officials who remained were Captain Cromie, the naval attaché, who was determined not to let the Baltic Fleet fall into the hands of the Germans, Woodhouse, the Consul, Major Macalpine and Captain Schwabe of General Poole's mission, and various officers and officials of our intelligence services. They were entirely independent of me and supplied their own reports to London.
With Lindley's departure I was therefore left to my own resources. Moreover, the route through Finland was now closed, and for the next six months I was to be shut off from all communication with England except by telegraph. Robins, too, had joined the American Embassy in its flight to Vologda and had informed me by telephone that in all probability the Ambassador and his staff would leave the next day for America via Siberia. If I could receive any encouragement from Lenin he would remain and do his best to persuade the American Ambassador to follow his example.
It was, therefore, with a sinking feeling in my heart that went to Smolny that morning to see the Bolshevik leader. He received me in a small room on the same floor as Trotsky's. It was untidy and bare of all trappings except a writing desk and a few plain chairs. It was not only my first interview with Lenin. It was the first time that I had set eyes on him. There was nothing in his personal appearance to suggest even faintly a resemblance to the super-man. Short of stature, rather plump, with short, thick neck, broad shoulders, round, red face, high intellectual forehead, nose slightly turned up, brownish moustache, and short, stubbly beard, he looked at the first glance more like a provincial grocer than a leader of men. Yet in those steely eyes there was something that arrested my attention, something in that quizzing, half-contemptuous, half-smiling look which spoke of boundless self-confidence and conscious superiority.
Later I was to acquire a considerable respect for his intellectual capacity, but at that moment I was more impressed by his tremendous will-power, his relentless determination, and his lack of emotion. He furnished a complete antithesis to Trotsky, who, strangely silent, was also present at our interview. Trotsky was all temperament---an individualist and an artist, on whose vanity even I could play with some success. Lenin was impersonal and almost inhuman. His vanity was proof against all flattery. The only appeal that one could make to him was to his sense of humour, which, if sardonic, was highly developed. During the next few months I was to be pestered with various requests from London to verify rumours of serious dissensions between Lenin and Trotsky---dissensions from which our Government hoped much. I could have given the answer after that first interview. Trotsky was a great organiser and a man of immense physical courage. But, morally, he was as incapable of standing against Lenin as a flea would be against an elephant. In the Council of Commissars there was not a man who did not consider himself the equal of Trotsky. There was not a Commissar who did not regard Lenin as a demi-god, whose decisions were to be accepted without question. Squabbles among the Commissars were frequent, but they never touched Lenin.
I remember Chicherin giving me an account of a Soviet Cabinet meeting. Trotsky would bring forward a proposal. It would be violently opposed by another Commissar. Endless discussion would follow, and all the time Lenin would be writing notes on his knee, his attention concentrated on some work of his own. At last some one would say: "Let Vladimir Ilyitch" [Lenin's Christian name and patronymic] "decide." Lenin would look up from his work, give his decision in one sentence, and all would be peace.
In his creed of world-revolution Lenin was as unscrupulous and as uncompromising as a Jesuit, and in his code of political ethics the end to be attained justified the employment of any weapon. On occasions, however, he could be amazingly frank, and my interview was one of them. He gave---correctly, as events proved---all the information for which I asked. It was quite untrue that the peace negotiations had broken down. The terms were such as one might expect from a militarist régime. They were scandalous, but they would have to be accepted. They would be signed preliminarily the next day and would be ratified by the overwhelming majority of the Party.
How long would the peace hold? He could not say. The Government was to he transferred to Moscow to enable him to consolidate his power. If the Germans forced their hands and tried to install a bourgeois government, the Bolsheviks would fight even if they had to withdraw to the Volga and the Urals. But they would fight on their own conditions. They were not to be made a cat's-paw for the Allies.
If the Allies understood this, there was an excellent opportunity for co-operation. To the Bolsheviks Anglo-American capitalism was almost as hateful as German militarism, but for the moment German militarism was the immediate menace. For that reason he was glad that I had decided to remain in Russia. He would give me all facilities, guarantee, as far as lay in his power, my personal safety, and grant me a free exit from Russia whenever I wanted to leave. But he was sceptical about any possibility of co-operating with the Allies. "Our ways," he said, "are not your ways. We can afford to compromise temporarily with capital. It is even necessary, for, if capital were to unite, we should be crushed at this stage of our development. Fortunately for us, it is in the nature of capital that it cannot unite. So long, therefore, as the German danger exists, I am prepared to risk a co-operation with the Allies, which should be temporarily advantageous to both of us. In the event of German aggression, I am even willing to accept military support. At the same time I am quite convinced that your Government will never see things in this light. It is a reactionary Government. It-will co-operate with the Russian reactionaries."
I expressed my fears that, now that peace was a certainty, the Germans would be able to throw all their forces against the Western front. They might then crush the Allies, and where would the Bolsheviks be then? Even more serious was the danger that Germany would be able to relieve her starving population with grain forcibly exported from Russia. Lenin smiled. "Like all your countrymen you are thinking in concrete military terms. You ignore the psychological factors. This war will be settled in the rear and not in the trenches. But even from your point of view your argument is false. Germany has long ago withdrawn her best troops from the Eastern front. As a result of this robber peace she will have to maintain larger and not fewer forces on the East. As to her being able to obtain supplies in large quantities from Russia, you may set your fears at rest. Passive resistance---and the expression comes from your own country---is a more potent weapon than an army that cannot fight."
I went home in a thoughtful mood to find a batch of telegrams from the Foreign Office. They were full of complaints about the peace. How could I insist that the Bolsheviks were not pro-German, when they proposed giving half Russia away to Germany without firing a shot? There was, too, a strongly-worded protest against Litvinoff's activities in London. Would I warn the Bolshevik Government immediately that such conduct could not be tolerated. As I sat paraphrasing the sense of the protest into Russian, the telephone rang. It was Trotsky. He had received news that the Japanese were preparing to land troops in Siberia. What did I propose to do about it and how could I explain my own mission in the face of this open act of hostility? I queried the authenticity of his information and sat down again at my desk. My servant brought in yet another telegram. It was from Robins, advising me to come to Vologda. I got on to him by telephone, told him that I was going to see things through to the bitter end in St. Petersburg, and requested him to inform his Ambassador about the Japanese imbroglio. Japanese intervention in Siberia would destroy all possibility of an understanding with the Bolsheviks. Common sense seemed to indicate that as a measure for reconstructing an Eastern front against Germany it was ludicrous. The final blow of a shattering day was a telegram from my wife---cryptically worded, but conveying unmistakably the information that my efforts were meeting with no sympathy in London. I was to be careful or my career would be ruined.
London had neither approved nor disapproved my decision to remain on after Lindley's departure. From the fact that the Foreign Office continued to bombard me with telegrams I concluded that it had acquiesced in the new situation. I indulged in a minor orgy of self-pity, which stiffened my obstinacy. Assuredly, my lot was a hard one. Then I went to bed and read the life of Richard Burton. In the circumstances it was perhaps the most dangerous tonic I could have taken. Burton had fought against Whitehall all his life, and the results had been disastrous.
Life in St. Petersburg during this period was a curious affair. The Bolsheviks had not yet succeeded in establishing the iron discipline which today characterises their régime. They had, in fact, made little attempt to do so. There was no terror, nor was the population particularly afraid of its new masters. The anti-Bolshevik newspapers continued to appear and to attack the Bolshevik policy with violent abuse. In particular Gorki, then editor of the Novaia Zizn, excelled himself in denouncing the men to whom today he has now given his whole-hearted allegiance. The bourgeoisie, still confident that the Germans would soon send the Bolshevik rabble about its business, was more cheerful than one might have expected in such disturbing circumstances. The population was starving, but the rich still had money. Restaurants and cabarets were still open, and the cabarets at any rate were crowded. On Sundays, too, there were trotting races before our house, and it was strange to contrast these beautiful, well-groomed horses with the starved and skeleton nags of the unfortunate "droschke" drivers. The only real danger to human life during these early days of the Bolshevik revolution was furnished, not by the Bolsheviks, but by the Anarchists---bands of robbers, ex-army officers, and adventurers, who had seized some of the finest houses in the city and who, armed with rifles, hand-grenades, and machine-guns, exercised a gangsters' rule over the capital. They lurked at street-corners for their victims and were utterly unscrupulous in their methods of dealing with them. They were, too, no respecters of persons. One evening, on his way back from Smolny to the centre of the city, Uritsky, who was subsequently head of the St. Petersburg Cheka, was pulled from his sleigh by bandits, stripped of all his clothes, and left to continue his journey in a state of nudity. He was fortunate to escape with his life. When we went out at night, we never went alone no matter how short the distance. We walked, too, in the middle of the road, and we kept our finger tight on the gun in our overcoat pocket. Desultory firing went on all through the night. The Bolsheviks seemed quite incapable of dealing with this pest. For years they had been crying against the Tsarist suppression of free speech. They had not yet embarked on their own campaign of suppression.
I mention this comparative tolerance of the Bolsheviks, because the cruelties which followed later were the result of the intensification of the civil war. For the intensification of that bloody struggle Allied intervention, with the false hopes it raised, was largely responsible. I do not say that a policy of abstention from interference in the internal affairs of Russia could have altered the course of the Bolshevik revolution. I do suggest that our intervention intensified the terror and increased the bloodshed.
On Saturday, March 3rd, the preliminary peace was signed by the Russian delegates at Brest, and the next day a Congress of all the Soviets was summoned to meet at Moscow on March 12th in order to give the formal ratification. At the same time the Bolsheviks announced the formation of a new Supreme War Council and issued an order for the arming of the whole people. Trotsky was appointed President of the new Council, and Chicherin took his place at the Bolshevik Foreign Office.
I saw Chicherin on his return from Brest. He was dejected and therefore friendly. He informed me that the German terms had raised a feeling of resentment in Russia similar to that in France after 1870, and now was the most favourable moment for a demonstration of Allied sympathy. The peace was a dictated peace which Russia would break as soon as she was strong enough. This, indeed, was the attitude of every Commissar with whom I came into contact.
As St. Petersburg was now to be evacuated by the Government, I asked Chicherin what arrangements he could make to house my mission in Moscow. As usual, he was all promises and vagueness. I therefore went to Trotsky, who, when he was in the mood, could get things done---and done quickly. I found him in a state of exaltation. His sense of the dramatic had adapted itself to his new office. Almost in a night he had become a soldier. His whole conversation breathed war. Ratification or no ratification, there would be war. At the small fractional meeting of the leading Bolsheviks, which had already decided on ratification, he had abstained from voting. He would not attend the formal ratification in Moscow. He was remaining in St. Petersburg for another week. He would be glad if I would remain with him. He would take me with him, when he left and would be personally responsible for my comfort in Moscow. Preferring the virile action of Trotsky to the vacillations of Chicherin, I decided to stay on.
In spite of more trouble about Japanese intervention, the mention of which never failed to rouse the fire in Trotsky's eyes (incidentally, it made no appeal to the Russian bourgeoisie, who rightly concluded that it would not relieve their sufferings), my last week in St. Petersburg was not unpleasant. I saw Trotsky every day, but otherwise I had less work than usual. The weather, too, was at its best, and we passed our time happily enough in entertaining our Russian friends.
It was at this time that I first met Moura -----, who was an old friend of Hicks and Garstin and a frequent visitor to our flat. She was then twenty-six. A Russian of the Russians, she had a lofty disregard for all the pettiness of life and a courage which was proof against all cowardice. Her vitality, due perhaps to an iron constitution, was immense and invigorated every one with whom she came in contact. Where she loved, there was her world, and her philosophy of life had made her mistress of all the consequences. She was an aristocrat. She could have been a Communist. She could never have been a bourgeoise. Later, her name was to become linked with mine in the final drama of my Russian career. During those first days of our meeting in St. Petersburg I was too busy, too pre-occupied with my own importance, to give her more than a passing thought. I found her a woman of great attraction, whose conversation brightened my daily life. The romance was to come afterwards.
Cromie, our Naval Attaché, was another of her friends, and on his birthday Moura gave a little luncheon party to which we all came. It was during Maslennitsa or Butter Week, and we ate innumerable "bliny" (pancakes and caviare) and drank vodka. I wrote a doggerel verse for each guest, and Cromie made one of his witty speeches. We toasted our hostess and laughed immoderately. For all of us it was almost the last care-free hour we were to spend in Russia.
Of the four English guests at that luncheon I am the last survivor. Cromie died gloriously, defending the Embassy from Bolshevik intrusion. Poor Dennis Garstin, who had worked with all his boyish enthusiasm for an understanding with the Bolsheviks, was taken from me by the War Office and sent to Archangel, where he fell a victim to a Bolshevik bullet. Will Hicks, or "Hickie," as everybody called him, died of consumption in Berlin in the spring of 1930.
It was a very peaceful St. Petersburg during this last week. Never had it looked more beautiful, and its deserted streets added to its charm.
The centre of gravity had now been transferred to Moscow. Lenin had left on March 10th. It was not until the afternoon of the 15th that Trotsky informed me we were to leave on the following morning. He had just been appointed Commissar for War. At the very moment, when his appointment was announced, the Congress of Soviets, which was to ratify the peace, had opened, and Lenin was making his historic answer to his pre-war critics: "One fool can ask more questions in a minute than twelve wise men can answer in an hour."
The next morning, having stored most of our heavy luggage in the Embassy, we rose at seven and arrived at Smolny at eight only to wait till ten before the Trotsky baggage train was ready. Most of that day we spent at the station, lolling about in the glorious sunshine and watching the 700 Letts, who furnished the Praetorian Guard of the new Red Napoleon, entrain. They looked a dour lot, but their discipline was excellent. The tediousness of our long wait was relieved by the drolleries of Bill Shatoff, a cheerful scoundrel with a sense of humour. He had spent his years of exile in New York and had a rich fund of East Side stories. Most of them were at the expense of Russia and the Russians for whom, in spite of his Communist beliefs, he had a slight contempt. His appearance was even funnier than his yarns. A miniature Carnera, he wore a suit of overalls over his ordinary clothes and sheepskin coat. The whole was surmounted by a large checked English cap. A pair of huge revolvers was strung from a belt at his hips. The general effect was a cross between a gunman and the rotund gentleman who furnishes the advertisement for Michelin tyres.
At last, at four o'clock, Trotsky arrived, resplendent in a khaki overcoat. We saluted, shook hands, and then he conducted us personally to our compartments. There were two of them, and, as, including our two Russian servants, we were only six strong, the accommodation was more than generous, more especially as the train was overcrowded. We travelled alone, but just before we reached Liuban we received a message from Trotsky. He would be glad if we would dine with him.
I shall remember that dinner to the end of my days. We dined at the head of a long table in the station restaurant. I sat on Trotsky's right and Hicks sat on his left. The fare was plain but good, a thick "shtshi" soup, veal cutlets with fried potatoes and sour gherkins, and a huge "torte." There was, too, beer and red wine. Trotsky, however, drank mineral water. He was in one of his genial moods and made an excellent host. Huge crowds, dumb and open-mouthed, watched us while we ate. The whole neighborhood seemed to have assembled to see the man who had given peace to Russia and now did not want it. At the end of dinner I congratulated him formally on his appointment as Minister for War. He replied that he had not yet accepted the post and that he would not accept it unless Russia were going to fight. At the time I believe he was sincere. Almost at the same moment the stationmaster came in and handed him a telegram. It was from Moscow. It contained the news that the Congress of Soviets had ratified the peace by an enormous majority.
We slept none the less soundly and arrived at Moscow the next morning without further incident.
At the station Trotsky gave another exhibition of good manners. He had secured rooms for us at the only hotel which was still functioning. He insisted on sending us off in his two cars, while he himself waited at the station.
IN one sense I was glad to be back in Moscow. I knew nearly every stone of its cobbled streets. It was almost my home. I had spent more years of my life inside its walls than in any other city of the world.
Yet it was a new Moscow that I found. Many of my old Russian and English friends had left. Chelnokoff had fled to the South. Lvoff was in hiding. Most of the fine houses of the rich merchants were occupied by Anarchists, whose outrages were even more daringly executed than in St. Petersburg. The city, too, was abnormally gay with a gaiety that shocked me. The bourgeoisie were awaiting the Germans with impatience and were already celebrating in advance the hour of their relief. Cabarets flourished. There was even one in the Elite Hotel, which was now our headquarters. Prices were high, especially for champagne, but there seemed no lack of money among the guests, who nightly thronged the tables until the early hours.
I had, however, little time for moralising. Within twenty-four hours of my arrival I was plunged into a whirlpool of turbulent activity. I found Robins and his Red Cross Mission at the Elite, where between us we had secured comfortable suites with sitting-rooms and bathrooms. General Lavergne and a large French military mission had also made Moscow their headquarters. General Romei was there with a smaller Italian mission. Major Riggs represented American military interests. If there was not to be the wildest confusion of opinion, it was essential that we should co-ordinate our efforts.
I called on all the Allied representatives, and at Romei's suggestion we had a daily conference in my rooms, at which Lavergne, Romei, Riggs and myself were always present. Robins also attended frequently. We succeeded in establishing a remarkably smooth co-operation. Almost to the bitter end we were in complete agreement regarding policy. We were watching the situation from the inside, and we realised that without Bolshevik consent military intervention would result only in a civil war which, without very large Allied forces, would be disastrous to our prestige. Intervention with Bolshevik consent was the policy which we sought to carry out, and within ten days of my arrival we passed a common resolution condemning Japanese intervention as futile. In self-defence I should make it plain that all our actions were influenced by the situation on the Western Front, where the great German March offensive was in full swing. We knew that the burning anxiety of the Allied High Command was to detach as many German soldiers from the West as possible. But taking every factor into consideration, we could not believe that this object could be attained by support of Alexeieff or Korniloff, who were at that time the forerunners of Denikin and Wrangel. These generals, like Skoropadsky, who was installed by the Germans as head of a White Government in Kieff, were not immediately interested in the war in the West. They may have been sincere in their desire to reconstitute an Eastern front against Germany, but, before they could do so, they had to deal with the Bolsheviks. Without strong foreign aid they were not powerful enough for this task. Outside the officer class---and it, too, was demoralised---they had no support in the country. Although we realised that the Bolsheviks would fight only if they were forced into war by German aggression, we were convinced that this situation might easily develop and that by a promise of support we might help to shape events in the form we desired. We could understand the resentment of the Allied Governments against the Bolsheviks. We could not follow their reasoning.
In this miniature Allied council Romei and I were independent. Romei reported direct to the Italian General Staff. He was not under the Italian Embassy. Since the departure of our own Embassy, I was alone. Lavergne, although the head of a military mission, was also military attaché. He was directly under the control of his Ambassador. Riggs was in an even more subordinate position. And the Allied Ambassadors were at Vologda, a little provincial town, hundreds of miles away from the centre of events. It was as if three foreign Ambassadors were trying to advise their governments on an English cabinet crisis from a village in the Hebrides. They were, too, strangely ill-fitted for their task. Francis, the American Ambassador, was a charming old gentleman of. nearly eighty---a banker from St. Louis, who had left America for the first time to be plunged into the vortex of the revolution. Noulens, the French Ambassador, was also a new arrival. He was a professional politician, whose attitude was determined by the prevailing policy of his own Party in the French Chamber. Lavergne, too, had a Socialist on his staff---Captain Jean Sadoul, the well-known French barrister and former Socialist deputy. Sadoul, who was on friendly terms with Trotsky, was a legacy of Albert Thomas. He served Lavergne well and faithfully, but to Noulens he was like a red rag to a bull. Politician mistrusted politician. There was continual friction. Noulens held up Sadoul's correspondence with Thomas, and in the end his obstinacy and his oppression drove the unfortunate Sadoul into throwing in his lot with the Bolsheviks. Torretta, the Italian Chargé d'Affaires, knew Russia well and spoke the language. His Russia, however, was the Russia of the old régime. Even had he wished to do so, he was morally incapable of standing up against the virile and aggressive Noulens. Moreover, he had had that desperate interview with Lutsky. There was not much to he hoped for from Torretta.
Vologda, even more than London and Paris, lived on the wildest anti-Bolshevik rumours. Rarely a day passed without Lavergne's being ordered by his Ambassador to investigate some new evidence of Bolshevik pro-Germanism. Romei and I roared with laughter when Lavergne asked us if we had heard anything of a German Control Commission in St. Petersburg. At the head of it was Baron Fredericks, the former Court Minister of the Tsar. It was working behind the scenes, but it had complete control over the Bolshevik Foreign Office, and not a single foreigner could leave Russia without its permission. "Another telegram from Vologda!" we said. But Lavergne did not laugh. These little excitements of M. Noulens had to be taken seriously, and, while Lavergne made inquiries on his own, down would go Sadoul to Trotsky to register an official protest against the establishment of such a mission. Trotsky would look blank. Sometimes he would be angry. At other times he would laugh and offer to write out a bromide prescription to calm the nerves of their Excellencies of Vologda. His father had been a chemist, and his acquaintance with a drug store had enriched his vocabulary. Lavergne had to take the tedious journey to Vologda fairly frequently. Romei and I went only once. Romei's comment was that "If we had put all the Allied representatives there in a cauldron and stirred them up, not one drop of common sense would have come out of the whole boiling!"
The month of March, 1918, was the period during which the Bolsheviks were most amenable to an understanding with the Allies. They were afraid of further German aggression. They had little confidence in their own future. They would have welcomed the assistance of Allied officers in training the new Red Army which Trotsky was now forming.
A coincidence of misfortune had provided us with a remarkable opportunity of supplying the Bolshevik War Minister with the Allied officers whom he required. A large French military mission, headed by General Berthelot, had just arrived in Moscow from Rumania. Holding the view that it was better that the Red Army should be trained by Allied officers than by Germans, we proposed to Trotsky that he should make use of General Berthelot's services. The Red leader, who had already shown his good will by appointing a committee of Allied officers to advise him, accepted the proposal with alacrity. At the first meeting, of this new committee, which was composed of General Romei, General Lavergne, Major Riggs, and Captain Garstin, Trotsky made a formal request for help. General Lavergne accepted the invitation, and it was agreed that General Berthelot's mission should remain. We seemed to have secured a tactical advantage.
Two days later the whole scheme was wrecked. M. Noulens had intervened. General Lavergne was hauled over the coals for exceeding his powers, and General Berthelot and his staff of officers were ordered to return immediately to France. The barometer of Trotsky's temperament suffered a severe depression, and the Izvestia came out with a leading article declaring that "only America had known how to treat the Bolsheviks decently and it was the Allies themselves who, by disregarding the wishes of the Russian people, were preventing the creation of a pro-Ally policy."
If General Lavergne had his troubles, my own were just as great. With the help of our secret service agents the British Government had discovered a new pro-German scare. According to the reports it had received, Siberia was teeming with German regiments composed of war prisoners who had been armed by the Bolsheviks. They were in control of a vast area. Here was a further proof that the Bolsheviks were handing over all Russia to the enemy. I received a querulous telegram pointing out the difference between my reports and the actions of the Bolsheviks.
I referred the matter to my Allied colleagues in Moscow. Common sense told me that the story was a mare's nest. Siberia, however, was far away. We could not quote the evidence of our own eyes. Robins and I, therefore, went down to the Commissariat for War to interview Trotsky. His reply was unequivocal. It was no use his issuing a denial. We should not believe him. We must go and see for ourselves. There and then he offered full facilities to any one we liked to send to carry out an investigation on the spot.
Ill as I could spare him, I decided to send Hicks, my most reliable assistant. He left that night together with Captain Webster, an officer of the American Red Cross Mission. Trotsky carried out his promise. He gave to both officers a personal letter instructing the local Soviets to give them the fullest assistance. They were to be allowed to go anywhere and to see everything.
Hicks was not to return for six weeks. During that time he travelled all over Siberia, inspecting the prison camps and carrying out his investigations with great thoroughness. His telegrams to me contained some startling information, especially regarding Semenoff, the Cossack general, who behind the Chinese frontier was waging a brigand warfare against the Bolsheviks. But of armed German or Austrian war-prisoners in Siberia he had seen no trace.
I paraphrased his reports and ciphered them to the War Office. The immediate reaction of London was a telegram from the War Office ordering Hicks to return to England at once. I was in a quandary. I had a shrewd idea why Hicks had been recalled. Moreover, I could not spare him. I had already more work than I could cope with, and no one on my staff was an expert cipherer. At the end of a long day's work I had to sit up late and take a hand in the ciphering myself. I sent a telegram to the Foreign Office pointing out my difficulties. At the same time I added that Hicks had been sent to Siberia on my responsibility and that, if he were to be recalled, there was no other course than for me to ask for my own recall. I received a private telegram from George Clerk, whose kindness and patience with my shortcomings I remember with gratitude, informing me that Hicks could remain.
The incident closed, but it did not increase my popularity in London. Within four days I received two alarming telegrams from my wife. The second ran as follows: "Have fullest information. Do nothing rash. Am anxious about your future career. I understand your personal feelings but hope to see you soon. Would be better for you. Please acknowledge immediately, also wire about no sympathy here."
The meaning was unmistakable. I knew from whom my wife had received her information. I was to throw in my hand and come home. I kept a stiff upper lip and my troubles to myself.
Quite apart from the major question of policy, life at this moment was full of minor excitements. There were perpetual pin-pricks between the British and Russian Governments---pinpricks which served to confuse the real issue. We had small missions all over Russia, and each mission had a different policy. At the same time we were making every kind of protest against the Bolshevik confiscation of Allied property. The Bolsheviks retaliated by attacks on the war aims of the Allies and attempts to influence British Labour in their favour. Litvinoff, in particular, was making himself a nuisance in London. In this game of protest and counter-protest I was a sadly battered shuttlecock between the battledores of the two Governments.
Nevertheless, there were rays of light in this murky situation. The German successes on the Western front had alarmed the Bolsheviks. They were prepared to go so far as to agree to Allied intervention in the event of renewed aggression by the Germans. The atmosphere in Moscow at this stage may best be illustrated by the fact that in its account of the March fighting on the Western front the Bolshevik Press suppressed all German bulletins. The bourgeois Press published them in full.
The Germans, too, seemed to be playing into our hands in Russia. Their attitude towards the Bolsheviks was truculent and overbearing. They made numerous protests against our presence at Murmansk, which we still occupied, and for form's sake the Bolshevik Foreign Office sent me several notes, which in accordance with its practice of so-called open diplomacy were published in the official Press. I took the notes to Chicherin. "What am I to do with them?" I asked. He replied that it would help if we would take the local Soviet into greater consideration. "Otherwise," he said cynically, "you can put them in your waste-paper basket."
Trotsky, although almost in despair over the attitude of the Allies, was no less friendly. "Just when we are on the verge of going to war," he said, "the Allied governments do everything they can to help the Germans." In the history of the Jews, which at that time was---not without reason-my bedside literature, I found the prayer of Bar Cochba, the Jewish "Son of the Star," in his struggle against the Romans in 132 A.D. "We pray Thee not to assist our enemies: us Thou needst not help." The words were almost the same as those which Trotsky addressed to me daily.
It was at this time that Trotsky gave me one remarkable proof of his physical courage. I was talking to him in the Commissariat for War in the square behind the Cathedral of the Saviour. Suddenly, a startled assistant burst into the room in a state of panic. There was a large crowd of armed sailors outside. They had not been paid or their pay was insufficient. They wanted to see Trotsky. If he did not come, they would storm the place.
Trotsky rose at once, his eyes blazing, and went down into the square. I watched the scene from the window. He made no attempt to satisfy the sailors. Instead, he lashed them with a withering blast of invective. They were dogs totally unworthy of the Fleet, which had played such a glorious part in the revolution. He would look into their complaints. If they were justified, they would be rectified. If not, he would brand them as traitors to the revolution. In the meantime they were to go back to their barracks or he would disarm them and take away their privileges. The sailors slunk away like beaten curs, and Trotsky returned to me to resume his conversation where he had left off. Was Trotsky another Bar Cochba? At any rate he was very bellicose.
Lenin, whom Robins saw frequently, was more guarded, but he, too, was prepared to go a long way to secure the friendly co-operation of the Allies.
Nor were the other Commissars behind-hand in their evidence of friendliness. I had established smooth-working relations with Karachan, who together with Chicherin and Radek formed a kind of triumvirate at the Bolshevik Foreign Office. An Armenian, with dark, waving hair and a well-trimmed beard, he was the Adonis of the Bolshevik Party. His manners were perfect. He was an excellent judge of a cigar. I never saw him in a bad temper, and during the whole period of our contact and even when I was being denounced as a spy and an assassin by his colleagues, I never heard an unpleasant word from his lips. This is not to imply that he was a saint. He had all the guile and craft of his race. Diplomacy was his proper sphere.
Radek, however, was our chief delight among the Commissars. A Jew, whose real name is Sobelsohn, he was in some respects a grotesque figure. A little man, with a huge head, protruding ears, clean-shaven face (in those days he did not wear that awful fringe which now passes for a beard), with spectacles, and a large mouth with yellow, tobacco-stained teeth, from which a huge pipe or cigar was never absent, he was always dressed in a quaint drab-coloured Norfolk suit with knickers and leggings. He was a great friend of Ransome, the correspondent of the Manchester Guardian, and through Ransome we came to know him very well. Almost every day he would turn up in my rooms, an English cap stuck jauntily on his head, his pipe puffing fiercely, a bundle of books under his arm, and a huge revolver strapped to his side. He looked like a cross between a professor and a bandit.
Of his intellectual brilliance, however, there was no doubt. He was the virtuoso of Bolshevik journalism, and his conversation was as sparkling as his leading articles. Ambassadors were his game and Foreign Ministers his butts. As Assistant Commissar for Foreign Affairs he received the Ambassadors and Ministers in the afternoon, and the next morning, under the thinly-disguised pseudonym of Viator, he attacked them in the Izvestia. He was a Puck full of malice and with a delicious sense of humour. He was the Bolshevik Lord Beaverbrook.
When the German Embassy arrived, he sorely tried the patience of the Kaiser's representatives. For, in those days, at any rate, this little man was violently anti-German. He had been at Brest-Litovsk, where he had taken an impish delight in puffing the smoke of his vile cheroot into General Hofmann's face. He had voted on every occasion against peace. Hot-headed and impulsive, he chafed under the restraint which from time to time had to he placed on his conduct by his more cautious colleagues. And, when he came to us and was rewarded with a half-pound tin of navy tobacco, he would air his grievances with scintillating abandon. His satirical shafts were aimed at all and sundry. He spared nobody---not even Lenin and certainly not the Russians. When the peace was ratified, he exclaimed almost in tears: "My God, if we had had any other race but Russians behind us in this struggle, we should have upset the world." He had a poor opinion of both Chicherin and Karachan. Chicherin was an old woman. Karachan he described as the "osel klassicheskoi krasoty"---the donkey of classical beauty. He was an amusing and entertaining comedian and, kept in proper check, the most dangerous propagandist that the Bolshevik movement has so far produced.
During our first two months in Moscow Robins and I enjoyed a privileged position. We had no difficulty in seeing the various Commissars. We were even allowed to be present at certain meetings of the Central Executive Committee. On one occasion we went to hear the debate on the new army. In those early days the Bolshevik Parliament held its meetings in the main restaurant of the Metropole Hotel, which had been renamed the "First House of Soviets." The deputies were seated in chairs set out in rows as for a concert. The various speakers spoke from the little pulpit, from which formerly Konchik, the leader of the orchestra, had stirred countless bourgeois souls with the sobbing of his violin. On this particular occasion the chief speaker was of course Trotsky. As a demagogic orator Trotsky is wonderfully effective until he loses his temper. He has a fine command of language, and the words stream from his mouth in a torrent, which never seems to abate. At its highest pitch his voice sounds almost like a hiss.
That night he was at his best. He was the man of action reporting the first progress of his great achievement---the creation of the Red Army. There was just sufficient opposition (in March and April there were still several Mensheviks in the Central Executive Committee) to rouse him to a great effort but not to make him lose his control, and he demolished his opponents with vigour and obvious relish. The enthusiasm he aroused was remarkable. His speech was like a declaration of war. He himself was an incarnation of belligerent hate.
Before the debate began, Robins and I were given tea and biscuits and were introduced to various Commissars whom we had not yet met: the mild-mannered and silky-tongued Lunacharsky; Bucharin, diminutive in size but a man of great personal courage and the only Bolshevik who was not afraid to criticise Lenin or to cross swords with him in a dialectical duel; Pokrovsky, the eminent Bolshevik historian; Krylenko, an epileptic degenerate, the future Public Prosecutor, and the most repulsive type I came across in all my connections with the Bolsheviks. These four men, together with Lenin and Chicherin, represented the purely Russian element in a hodge-podge of Jews, Georgians, Poles and other nationalities.
During the debate we sat at a side table with Radek and Gumberg, Robins's Jew-American assistant. Lenin came into the hall several times. He sat down and chatted with us for a few minutes. He was, as usual, in a good humour---indeed, I think of all the public figures I have met he possessed the most equable temperament---but he took no part in the debate. The only attention he paid to Trotsky's speech was to lower his voice slightly in his own conversation.
There were two other Commissars whom I met that night for the first time. One was Derjinsky, the head of the Cheka and a man of correct manners and quiet speech but without a ray of humour in his character. The most remarkable thing about him was his eyes. Deeply sunk, they blazed with a steady fire of fanaticism. They never twitched. His eyelids seemed paralysed. He had spent most of his life in Siberia and bore the traces of his exile on his face. I also shook hands with a strongly-built man with a sallow face, black moustache, heavy eyebrows, and black hair worn en brosse. I paid little attention to him. He himself said nothing. He did not seem of sufficient importance to include in my gallery of Bolshevik portraits. If he had been announced then to the assembled Party as the successor of Lenin, the delegates would have roared with laughter. The man was the Georgian Djugashvilli, known today to the whole world as Stalin, the man of steel.
Of these new acquaintances the one who made the deepest impression on me was Lunacharsky. A man of brilliant intellect and wide culture, he has been more successful than any one in converting bourgeois intellectuals to Bolshevism or to tolerance of the Bolshevik régime. It was he who brought back Gorky to the Bolshevik fold, to which, perhaps without knowing it, he had always belonged. It was he, too, who insisted on the preservation of the bourgeois arts, who provided protection for the treasures of the Russian museums, and who is primarily responsible for the fact that today Moscow has still its opera, its ballet, and its famous Art Theatre. It was also Lunacharsky, who, as an original adherent to the Orthodox Faith, started the "Bolshevising" movement inside the Russian Church. A brilliant speaker, he advanced many original arguments in support of his revised religion. It was during that first year of Bolshevism that he made his famous speech in which he compared Lenin's persecution of the capitalists with Christ's expulsion of the money-lenders from the Temple, finishing with the startling peroration that "if Christ were alive today, he would be a Bolshevik."
Robins and I had one more thrilling experience during this period of March and April, 1918. One of Trotsky's first tasks as Commissar for War had been to rid Moscow of the Anarchist bands who were terrorising the city. At three a.m. in the early morning of April 12 he carried out a simultaneous raid on the twenty-six Anarchist nests. The venture was a complete success. After a desperate resistance the Anarchists were evicted from the houses they had occupied, and all their machine-guns, their rifles, their ammunition, and their loot were captured. Over a hundred were killed in the fighting. Five hundred were arrested. Later in the day, on Derjinsky's invitation, Robins and I made a tour of the different fighting areas. We were given a car and an armed escort. Our cicerone was Peters, Derjinsky's Lettish assistant and my future gaoler-in-chief.
The Anarchists had appropriated the finest houses in Moscow. On the Povarskaia, where the rich merchants lived, we entered house after house. The filth was indescribable. Broken bottles littered the floors. The magnificent ceilings were perforated with bullet-holes. Wine stains and human excrement blotched the Aubusson carpets. Priceless pictures had been slashed to strips. The dead still lay where they had fallen. They included officers in guards' uniform, students---young boys of twenty and men who belonged obviously to the criminal class and whom the revolution had released from prison. In the luxurious drawing-room of the House Gracheva the Anarchists had been surprised in the middle of an orgy. The long table which had supported the feast had been overturned, and broken plates, glasses, champagne bottles, made unsavoury islands in a pool of blood and spilt wine. On the floor lay a young woman face downwards. Peters turned her over. Her hair was dishevelled. She had been shot through the neck, and the blood had congealed in a sinister purple clump. She could not have been more than twenty. Peters shrugged his shoulders. "Prostitutka," he said. "Perhaps it is for the best."
It was an unforgettable scene. The Bolsheviks had taken their first step towards the establishment of discipline.
IF we lived in a state of chronic crisis, life was not without its relaxations. Thanks to the American Red Cross, we were well supplied with stores and tobacco. Hicks, too, was an excellent organiser, and in the days when the going was still good he provided us with a cellar which nearly lasted out our rooms, entertaining our colleagues and making as brave a show as we could in return for the more sumptuous hospitality which their larger numbers and their superior accommodation enabled them to offer. After dinner there was generally a game of poker with the Americans. Robins did not play. He read his Bible or talked to me. But his staff did. My fellows were no match for them, and, when I took a hand in the game, I, too, had to pay for my education. There was an Irish-American called O'Callaghan, whose equal as a poker-player I have yet to discover. He was a confirmed pessimist. Every time he played he would take out his watch and say: "The luck changes at twelve o'clock, when it gets worse." His own luck or skill never changed. He took our money with unfailing regularity.
On Sundays we went to the ballet. Except that the Imperial box was crowded with "comrades," the performance was the same as in Tsarist days, and excellent it was. For a few hours we could forget our troubles, and, watching the same scenery and the same dancers, I found it hard to remember that we were in the middle of the greatest revolution the world has ever known. Then the curtain would go down. The orchestra would strike up "The International," and we returned to the grim realism of the time in which we lived. In the space of a few months "The International" was the third national anthem I had heard played by the same orchestra.
When the spring came, we made excursions into the country, picnicked in the woods and played rounders in the fields. It was our only form of exercise. Our favourite resort was Archangelskoe, the beautiful country home of Prince Yusupoff. It was strange to see the place deserted. The peasants had taken over the land, but, as far as we could see, they had not touched the house, and everything seemed intact. After Moscow the solitude was vastly soothing. There was no traffic on the roads, and, once we were clear of the outskirts of the city, we rarely saw a living soul. The absence of traffic, in fact, was a danger which nearly brought me to disaster. Coming back one night after dusk, we ran into a toll-bar. The turnpike keeper had gone to sleep. Fortunately, we were not going very fast, and beyond a smashed wind-screen our car suffered no damage.
My hands, however, were badly cut by the broken glass, and I bear the scars of the adventure to this day.
We even went to a cabaret---a cellar called the "Podpolye" in the Okhotny Riad. It was. a stupid escapade, for the place was illegal, and if we had been caught we should have looked foolish. The hall was crowded with bourgeois of the richer class. There was an excellent stage, tables on the floor, and a row of boxes at the end. Prices were high, but there was champagne on every table. We took a box and sat down to listen to a first-class entertainment such as only Russians can provide. It was here that I heard for the first time Vertinsky, a decadent young genius, whose songs, written and sung by himself, expressed the disillusionment of the Russian intelligentsia. One song, in particular, made a deep impression on me: "Ya nye znaiu zachem" ("I do not know why"). It was an anti-war song, and Vertinsky, his face powdered a deathly white, sang it with immense effect. I can remember only the first few lines:
I do not know why
Or for what purpose.
Who sent them to death
With relentless, untrembling hand.
Only it was all so useless,
The song was encored again and again. It reflected the mood of an anti-Bolshevik audience, which had lost its soul and its morale. It was the song of a class which had already abandoned all hope,---a class which would go almost to any length to avoid death by fighting. Yet only that morning I had received a telegram from the Foreign Office giving the view of a British military expert that all that was required in Russia was a small and resolute nucleus of British officers to lead the "loyal Russians" on to victory.
As I sat reflecting on the hard fate of the man on the spot, there was a sudden rush at the door and a stern roar of "hands up." Twenty men in masks had entered the room and were covering the audience with Browning pistols and revolvers. There was a deathly stillness. Quickly and without fuss, four of the bandits went through the pockets of the audience, collecting money, jewellery and everything of value. Most of them wore officers' uniforms---whether with right or not I had no means of determining. When they reached our box, the leader noticed the English uniforms of Hill and Garstin. I had already handed over my watch and note-case. The man saluted. "You are English officers," he said. With my arms still stretched towards heaven, I answered yes. He returned me my money and my watch. "We do not rob Englishmen," he said. "I apologise for the state of my country which forces me to adopt this manner of earning our living."
We were in luck. Fortunately, we were never in a position to repeat the experiment. When Trotsky exterminated the Anarchists, he closed the cabarets as well.
As far as Moscow was concerned, we Allies were a not unhappy family. Lavergne and Romei were splendid companions, and, during the eight trying months we were together, we never had a quarrel or a cross word. Romei, in particular, was a great stand-by. He was the most stolid Italian I have ever met. He faced every crisis with complete objectiveness and could always be relied upon to give a common-sense solution to every problem. He had no illusions about the collapse of Russia as a fighting machine and opposed himself resolutely to any scheme of adventure.
With the other British missions in Russia my relations were not so good. I maintained as close a contact as possible with Cromie, the naval attaché, and was able to assist him in his work by bringing him into touch with Trotsky. He was a gallant and extremely efficient naval officer, but was without experience of political work. Occasionally, too, I saw McAlpine, a former Treasury official and a man of first-class intellect. His headquarters were in St. Petersburg. He, too, was able to take an objective view of the situation and remained to the end a convinced opponent of intervention. There were, however, other British officials who I knew disapproved of my policy and, without knowing what I was doing, intrigued against me. The truth is that our various missions and remnants of missions were at sixes and sevens. There was no one in a position of authority, and, although the Foreign Office addressed me in their telegrams as "British Agent, Moscow," and the Bolsheviks insisted on labelling me "British Diplomatic Representative," I was completely in the dark regarding the work of a whole group of British officers and officials for whose presence in Russia and for whose protection my position with the Bolsheviks was the only guarantee.
There was no British policy, unless seven different policies at once can be called a policy. And, for the furtherance of this vagueness, the Foreign Office insisted on keeping my own position as vague as possible. If in the House of Commons some irate interventionists wished to know why in the name of decency the British Government maintained an official representative with a government of cut-throats who boasted of their determination to destroy civilisation, Mr. Balfour or his Under-Secretary would then reply quite truthfully that we had no official representative accredited to the Bolshevik Government. On the other hand, when some revolutionary-minded Liberal charged the British Government with the folly of not maintaining an accredited representative in Moscow in order to protect British interests and to assist the Bolsheviks in their struggle with German militarism, Mr. Balfour would reply, with the same strict regard for the truth, that in Moscow we had a representative---an official with great experience of Russia---who was charged precisely with these duties.
Obviously, the British Government was faced with a problem of immense difficulty. It was not in a position to send large forces to Russia. If it supported the small officer armies in the South, it ran the risk of driving the Bolsheviks into an unholy league with the Germans. If it supported the Bolsheviks, there was, at the beginning at any rate, a serious danger that the Germans would advance on Moscow and St. Petersburg and set up their own pro-German bourgeois Government. (Personally, I should have preferred this course, as it would have drawn more German troops into Russia. Without German military support no bourgeois Government could have maintained power for a month. The Bolsheviks would always have mastered the forces of the anti-Bolshevik Russians.) Moreover, it was physically impossible for our government to keep pace with the situation, which changed radically every forty-eight hours. That British Ministers were unable to see any sign of order in the prevailing chaos was natural enough. Where they were to blame was in listening to too many counsellors and in not realising the fundamental truth that in Russia the educated class represented only an infinitesimal minority, without organisation or political experience and without any contact with the masses. It was the crowning folly of Tsarism that outside its own bureaucracy it had sternly repressed every political outlet. When Tsarism collapsed, the bureaucracy collapsed with it, and there was nothing left but the masses. In Moscow, with one's fingers on the pulse of the events, every one except the most obstinate traditionalist could realise that here was a cataclysm which had shattered all previous conceptions of Russia. London, however, continued to regard it as a passing storm, after which the glass would return to "set fair." The most dangerous of all historical aphorisms is the catch-phrase: "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose." During the spring and summer of 1918 it was constantly on the lips of the British pro-interventionists. History has its ebbs and flows, but unlike the tide the ebb comes slowly and, rarely, if ever, in one generation.
Another heavy weight on my shoulders during this period was my contact with my old political friends of pre-revolutionary days. Those who had remained in Moscow came to see me. They came, some in anger, some in sorrow, and some in friendship. They could be divided into three classes: those who were in favour of general peace; those who were in touch with the White Generals in the South and who believed in the so-called Allied orientation; and those who realised sadly that the Bolsheviks had come to stay. I do not include the out-and-out pro-Germans in this classification. They did not come to see me.
These interviews were a source of genuine grief to me. These men had been my friends and colleagues in the task of promoting Anglo-Russian friendship. To refuse them help seemed almost like treachery. With the advocates of a general peace (the idea was that we should make peace with Germany and allow the Germans to deal with Bolshevism) my task was comparatively simple. I could only shake my head sorrowfully and say that in the light of the situation on the Western front this object seemed unattainable. Nevertheless, they persevered, and, when the German Embassy arrived in Moscow, one prominent Russian informed me that he had consulted the German Ambassador and was in a position to arrange a private interview for me with him at the Russian's house. I referred the matter to the Foreign Office and was instructed to have nothing to do with the proposal.
Much more trying was my position with the advocates of Allied intervention. Situated as I was, I was not in a position to offer them any promise of help or of support. Nor did I do so, although for the sake of information I maintained a more or less regular contact with them. I was visited, too, by various emissaries from General Alexeieff, General Korniloff, and, later, General Denikin, but, as I was surrounded by agents-provocateurs and could not be certain of their bona fides, I was severely non-committal in my answers.
The third class, whom I may call the realists, were few in number. They included men like Avinoff, the former Assistant Minister of the Interior, and young Muravieff, ex-secretary of Izvolsky and a brother of the first Lady Cheetham. Avinoff, a man of great intelligence and objectivity, was the most understanding of all my friends. He was a man whom no one could help liking. His manners were as charming as his culture. His wife, born a Countess Trubetskaia, belonged to one of the oldest families in Russia. The revolution had destroyed everything he held dear in life. But, prescient beyond most of his compatriots, he saw clearly. And in the course of a brilliant expose of the revolutionary movement he told me sadly that the Bolsheviks were the only government that had shown the slightest sign of strength since the revolution, that in spite of its dictatorial tyranny its roots were in the masses, and that the counterrevolution had no chance of success for years to come.
We had, too, other visitors in the form of stranded English missions returning from Rumania and the South. There was Le Page, a self-possessed and bearded naval officer, who had the arduous task of maintaining relations with the Russian Fleet in the Black Sea. There was de Candolla, a railway expert, who had been engaged on a mission in Rumania. On his return home through Moscow, he left me his assistant, Tamplin, whom I added to the strength of my own mission. A little later, I picked up Lingner, who had been employed on a propaganda mission in Tiflis and who, in order to reach Moscow, had completed a real Odyssey of dangerous adventure. Both Tamplin, who spoke Russian perfectly, and Lingner, who had a good business head, were of great help to me. Nor must I forget to mention Arthur Ransome, the correspondent of the Manchester Guardian, who, if not a member of our mission, was something more than a visitor. He lived in our hotel and we saw him almost daily. Ransome was a Don Quixote with a walrus moustache, a sentimentalist who could always be relied upon to champion the under-dog, and a visionary whose imagination had been fired by the revolution. He was on excellent terms with the Bolsheviks and frequently brought us information of the greatest value. An incorrigible romanticist, who could spin a fairy-tale out of nothing, he was an amusing and good-natured companion. As an ardent fisherman, who had written some charming sketches on angling, he made a warm appeal to my sympathy, and I championed him resolutely against the secret service idiots who later tried to denounce him as a Bolshevik agent.
Our most exciting visitors, however, were the Germans, whom we saw frequently but never greeted. As a direct result of the peace of Brest-Litovsk the Germans had appointed Count Mirbach Ambassador in Moscow. He was due to arrive on April 24th. The first of a long series of duels began on April 22nd, when the Bolsheviks roused me to fury by requisitioning forty rooms in my hotel for the new Ambassador and his staff. Most of the rooms were on the same floor as my own.
White with passion, I went to Chicherin and protested vigorously against this insult. Chicherin was apologetic, but impotent. I stormed and I blustered. Chicherin looked up wearily, his ferret-eyes blinking with amazement at this fierce outburst from so good-natured a person as myself. He wrung his hands, pleaded for time, promised that the intrusion would be only for a few days, and excused himself on the ground that there was no other accommodation available.
In despair I went to Trotsky, who, at any rate, could he relied upon to give a decision. He was not to he found. He had, however, an extremely able and tactful secretary, Evgenia Petrovna Shelyepina, who is now an English subject and the wife of Arthur Ransome. I told her that I must speak to Trotsky immediately and that the matter was one of the utmost urgency. Within five minutes I was speaking to him on the telephone. In the most vigorous Russian I could command I told him that I would not tolerate this insult, and, that, unless the requisition order were rescinded at once, I should move myself, my mission, and my baggage to the station and camp there, until he gave me a train. I demanded an immediate answer.
Trotsky, who was in the middle of a Commissars' meeting at the Kremlin, took my outburst splendidly. He agreed that our position would be intolerable. He promised to take immediate action. He was as good as his word. Half-an-hour later he telephoned to me to say that the matter had been settled. He had given categorical orders that other quarters---he did not know where---were to be found for the Germans. For several days they were lodged uncomfortably in a second-rate hotel. Then they moved to a magnificent private house in the Denejni Pereulok. This minor triumph I owed entirely to Shelyepina.
I rewarded her later, when she wanted to leave Russia, by giving her a British passport---an illegal act, for which I hope I shall not be held responsible today.
On April 26th Count Mirbach presented his credentials at the Kremlin. He was received, not by Lenin, but by Sverdloff, the President of the Central Executive Committee. The proceedings were formal and acidly polite. In his speech Sverdloff said: "We greet in your person the nation with whom we concluded the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk."
The staff of the German Embassy was composed almost entirely of Russian experts. Mirbach himself had been Counsellor of the German Embassy in St. Petersburg before the war. Riezler, his chief assistant, had had a long and varied experience of Russian politics. Hausschild, the first secretary, was an old friend of mine. He had come to Moscow as Vice-Consul at the same time as myself. He was a man of sterling character. Until the outbreak of war he had always been pro-English.
Although they possessed so wide a knowledge of Russian affairs, I do not believe that the Germans were more successful in their dealings with the Bolsheviks than we were. Certainly they made as many mistakes, and at no time was their position secure or happy. We went everywhere, unarmed and unattended. The Germans never moved out of their quarters without a guard.
Their presence in Moscow, however, was a considerable embarrassment to us, and the Bolsheviks must have found a childish amusement in playing us off against each other. They did it very effectively. They herded us together in the same waiting-room at the Foreign Office. If they wished to annoy Mirbach, they received me first. If the British Government had offended them in any way, they were suave to Mirbach and kept me waiting. If the Germans were too insistent in their demands, the Bolsheviks would threaten them with Allied intervention. When the Allies tried to force intervention on the Bolsheviks, they would draw an alarming picture of the dangers of a German advance on Moscow. As neither the Germans nor the Allies could make up their minds on a clear-cut policy towards Russia, Bolshevik diplomacy had all the advantages.
My meetings with the Germans at the Bolshevik Foreign Office caused me acute discomfort. Sometimes we were left together for nearly an hour, during which we turned our backs on each other and gazed out of the window or read the Izvestia. My most painful encounter was the first time I came face to face with Hausschild. He was alone in the waiting-room when I entered, and he came forward to greet me with a frank smile. I turned away as if I did not know him. It was an act which I have regretted ever since. Later, when I was arrested and in danger of my life, he put me to shame by associating himself with the diplomatic representatives of the neutral Powers in the demand for my release. Through the Swedish Chargé d'Affaires, he sent a friendly message to me when I was in prison. Today, he is dead, and I have never been able to repay my debt of gratitude or to apologise for my action.
There was one other visitor, who, like Arthur Ransome, became a permanency. This was Moura. Since saying goodbye to her in St. Petersburg at the beginning of March, I had missed her more than I cared to admit. We had written to each other regularly, and her letters had become a necessary part of my daily life. In April she came to stay with us in Moscow. She arrived at ten o'clock in the morning, and I was engaged with interviews until ten minutes to one. I went downstairs to the living room, where we had our meals. She was standing by a table, and the spring sun was shining on her hair. As I walked forward to meet her, I scarcely dared to trust my voice. Into my life something had entered which was stronger than any other tie, stronger than life itself. From then onwards she was never to leave us, until we were parted by the armed force of the Bolsheviks.
Book Four, Chapter Seven
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